The ice broke as a government negotiating team engaged senior leaders of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in an exploratory round of talks Wednesday night where the PTI team put forward six demands of their party which were spelled out by Imran Khan earlier in the day.
The government negotiating team, comprising Punjab Governor Chaudhry Muhammad Sarwar, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, SAFRON Minister Lt Gen (retd) Abdul Qadir Baloch, Planning and Development Minister Ahsan Iqbal and PML-Zia chief Ijazul Haq met with a five-member team of the PTI at a local hotel.
PTI stalwarts Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Makhdoom Javed Hashmi, Dr Arif Alvi, Asad Umar and Jahangir Tareen represented their party at the talks which continued past midnight.
Appearing before the media after the talks, Qureshi said that they have informed the government team about the six demands of their party. “The government will get back to us today [Thursday],” he added. He said that the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif figured on top of the list of their demands.
On his part, Ahsan Iqbal said that the government side was hopeful about a positive outcome of the talks. “We have started negotiations and would soon find a solution. I am sure it will be a win-win solution for all,” he told the media.
The Punjab governor also sounded optimism, saying that both sides would work out a solution which is in the larger interest of the nation. Earlier in the day, Jamaat-e-Islami chief Sirajul Haq said a breakthrough was expected in next 48 hours.
Hours before the talks began, PTI chairman Imran Khan reiterated that he was ready to engage in talks with the government only after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif resigned.
In his first address to marchers in front of the Parliament House after their entry into the Red Zone, Imran said he was ready for talks but was not going to accept anything less than the prime minister’s resignation. This was the first of his six demands announced Wednesday evening.
The PTI chief said D-Chowk had become Azadi Square like Tahrir Square, adding, “We will sit in Azadi Square until Nawaz Sharif resigns.”
Justifying his demand for the resignation, Imran quoted Interior Minister Nisar’s speech in the National Assembly in which he had said that 60,000 to 70,000 votes in every constituency could not be verified. This led to his second demand of holding a re-election.
“Nawaz Sharif has stolen the people’s mandate. How can there be any inquiry under his rule,” he questioned.
Addressing the government, he said if they think Imran would go back without getting the resignation, then they are mistaken. “I will sleep in this container for a year if needed,” he added.
The PTI chief did not spare Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah saying, “Don’t become the personal secretary of Nawaz Sharif.”
His third demand was the introduction of electoral reforms. The entire country pointed out that there had been rigging in the general elections and so the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has failed to perform its constitutional role, he said. “If you have failed to hold free and fair elections, then resign.”
Explaining his fourth demand, he said his party wanted a ‘neutral caretaker government’, which should not be like the previous one. The caretaker government should be installed after consultation with all political parties, he added. He then demanded a new election commission be formed as well.
“All those who played their role in the rigging of the 2013 general elections should be tried under Article 6 of the Constitution,” he said, while announcing his final demand. Those people should also be questioned about others who were involved in the rigging.
Talking about the electoral systems, he referred to India and said the neighbouring country had fair elections, meanwhile, on this side of the border, the winners and the losers agree that rigging took place.
Once all these steps are taken, then elections should be held after which Naya Pakistan would emerge, said Imran.
The PTI chief said that Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif was responsible for killing innocent people in Lahore. “I can give you in writing that Shahbaz Sharif would not go behind bars unless they [Nawaz and Shahbaz] are in power.”
In his speech, the PTI chairman also mentioned the attack on Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s house in Multan and said the government was behind that.
Pointing out that the rulers have blocked off Islamabad with containers, the PTI chief asked, “What are you afraid of? If you are true representatives of the people, then why are you afraid of them. You are afraid because you hijacked the elections. You are guilty!”
Earlier in the day, Shah Mehmood Qureshi had announced that PTI had agreed to negotiate with the government. “We want to strengthen democracy and not derail it,” he reiterated.
Speaking exclusively to his namesake Express News anchor Imran Khan after the speech, the PTI chief said there is no other option left. “They have rigged the election, which the government has admitted also. The polls were fake, the ink they used was unverifiable, and if elections are held again, they will do this again.” Referring to the prime minister, he said, “When he buys the election commission, buys the judiciary, buys the caretaker government, how can you expect anything?”
He alleged that bogus ballot papers were used in 89 constituencies in Punjab.
About Qadri’s demands for the dissolution of the government and the registration of an FIR against the Sharif brothers, he said the demands are legitimate and justified. “The whole country saw the eight-hour carnage at Model Town.”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 21st, 2014.
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