Defence Minister Khawaja Asif has said that the endgame of the protest sit-ins of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has begun.
Speaking to Express News by phone, the minister said that the Parliament House has been cleared of protesters – but women and children have been allowed to stay there for safety.
PTI chairman Imran Khan and PAT leader Dr Tahirul Qadri would not be allowed to stay in the red zone either. “We will get Imran and Qadri to leave this place — one will go back to Canada, the other to Banni Gala,” he added.
Asif also questioned the whereabouts of the leaders of the protesting parties, particularly the Chaudhrys of Gujrat, Asad Umer and Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed.
Asked about the status of negotiations, he said, “If the two leaders are still willing to enter into dialogue, we will welcome them.” However, he added that with a situation like this, dialogue was unlikely.
The minister said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif would not resign as this demand was an insult to the parliament and the Constitution. “The mandate given by the people cannot be surrendered before 10,000 to 20,000 people,” he said.
Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique said the government wanted peaceful and negotiated settlement of the current political crisis and wanted to avoid bloodshed.
He said five out of six demands of PTI chairman Imran Khan had already been accepted. “Their demand for the prime minister’s resignation, however, could not be accepted,” he added.
He said that despite abusive language the government was not retaliating against Imran in the same language. He said negative impressions were prevailing in the country due to the closure of the Red Zone for the last 15 days.
State Minister for Communications Abdul Hakeem Baloch also criticised the politics of agitation and sit-ins, saying that it was a conspiracy to disrupt economic progress and flow of foreign investment into the country.
Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) spokesperson Jan Achakzai said that now was time to remove these protesters from the Red Zone as Imran and Qadri had put their workers in danger by pitting them against law enforcements agencies and had created an emergency situation in red zone.
“Building capture strategy of the two leaders have created law and order situation, so all protesters should be removed immediately from the Red Zone,” he said in a statement.
He said the government had showed restraint for the last 17 days but the PTI and the PAT had abandoned talks. “We also urge national security institutions to take stock of the situation and make every effort to restore the writ of the state,” he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 31st, 2014.