Lowering political rhetoric and brinkmanship, a senior leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) offered the government to revive a stalled negotiation process by December 6 and his party would reconsider its plans to shut down Faisalabad on Dec 8. The offer came a day after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif tasked his key cabinet minister, Ishaq Dar, to reengage the PTI in dialogue.
Imran Khan’s party has threatened to paralyse Faisalabad on Dec 8, Karachi on Dec 12, Lahore on Dec 15 and then a nationwide shutdown on the 18th if an independent audit of the 2013 election is not ordered.
“If [Ishaq] Dar sahib, after speaking with the prime minister, assures us [PTI] that the government is ready to resume negotiations by December 6, I will try and persuade my party to call off the protest,” PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi said in Express News talk-show ‘Kal Tak’.
In response to Qureshi’s offer, Ishaq Dar, the federal finance minister who had spearheaded talks with the PTI until August 31, said the government would initiate dialogue by Dec 6 or 7 if the PTI deferred its protest. “I’m ready to go an extra mile. And I’ll reach out to the prime minister…,” Dar said in the show.
Earlier in the day, leaders from the two parties expressed their respective viewpoints on the negotiation process that had hit snags over the makeup and scope of a proposed judicial commission that was supposed to investigate PTI’s complaints of massive rigging in the 2013 elections.
Dar told journalists at a news conference that talks should resume from the point where they had collapsed. Seventy per cent of PTI’s demands were futuristic and the government had already started working on those lines, he said, referring to a parliamentary committee on electoral reforms which has been working on a package for overhauling the country’s electoral system that, most parties agree, is rigged with flaws.
PTI lawmaker Asad Umar said that the talks had hit snags over the scope of the proposed judicial commission. He claimed that the two sides had agreed to the constitution of a special investigation team and its makeup. “The government wanted the investigations to focus on whether or not systematic rigging took place, while we insisted that the commission’s hands should not be tied and it should be allowed to look into every aspect of rigging,” Umar said at a news conference where he was flanked by PTI’s information secretary Dr Shireen Mazari. To a question about PTI’s strategy regarding resignations from the National Assembly, Umar said it was for Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq to take a decision because the PTI members were very clear that they have resigned.
Asked about verifying their resignation on the floor of the National Assembly as was done by PTI president Makhdoom Javed Hashmi, Umar said that Hashmi had cut a ‘clandestine deal’ with the government and was given a chance to speak but we would not be given such a favour. “We were not allowed to go to the speaker’s chamber when we all went there for verification [of our resignations],” Dr Mazari added.
Dozens of PTI lawmakers had resigned from federal and provincial legislatures – except for Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa where the party is in power – on August 22. However, the resignations are pending approval as the speaker is calling for individual verification while the PTI insists on en masse verification of their resignations.
Govt’s strategy for talks
The Express Tribune has learnt that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is currently in London to attend an international conference on Afghanistan, will take input from the heads of all parliamentary parties on Dec 6 or 7 before taking a decision on resuming talks with the PTI. Not only that, he will also set a minimum agenda for talks based on input from all parliamentary leaders, top PML-N leaders said.
Before meeting the heads of all parliamentary parties, the prime minister will confer with senior leaders of his party. According to insiders, most PML-N leaders believe that talks should be resumed only if the PTI chairman ‘announces a ceasefire’ and withdraws his threat to shut down major cities and then the country.
Sources said the PML-N was insisting on the Terms of Reference for the proposed Judicial Commission, but most parliamentary leaders have advised the ruling party against going into legalese, asking it to simply task the commission to probe the allegations of ‘massive rigging’. However, a final decision, sources said, would be taken in the prime minister’s meetings with his aides and heads of all parliamentary parties.
PTI’s agenda of talks
According to well-placed sources in the PTI, Imran Khan has given the agenda of the talks to the negotiating team of his party. Imran, sources said, has asked his party’s negotiators to insist on inclusion of ISI and MI officials in the proposed Judicial Commission and not the Special Investigation Team. The PTI chief believes that the JC’s recommendations would more likely be implemented than SIT’s findings.
He also asked the PTI negotiators that they should insist on an audit of only 35 National Assembly seats, and not the entire elections. Similarly, Imran wants the Judicial Commission to complete the task within six to eight weeks. By insisting on an audit of 35 seats, the PTI believes that if the JC establishes massive rigging in only 20 constituencies, the credibility of the entire elections would become suspect.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 3rd, 2014.
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