LAHORE - Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has said he has already conceded to all legitimate demands of the protesting PTI and PAT, dismissed the political crisis triggered by protests aimed at unseating his government as “a tiny storm” that would be ended soon.
Thousands of supporters of opposition leader Imran Khan and populist cleric Tahirul Qadri have been camped outside parliament since August 15 demanding Sharif quit, claiming the election which swept him to power last year was rigged.
In an interview to a private TV channel on Saturday, the prime minister said that ‘dharna’ politics of and provocation has pushed back the wheel of national economy which tantamount to playing with the destiny of the nation.
Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan alleges the 2013 general election that swept Sharif to power in a landslide was rigged, though international observers said the vote was largely free and fair.
Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) leader Dr Qadri has demanded wholesale changes to Pakistan’s political system and called for an interim “unity government” while they are implemented. More than a week of government efforts to negotiate an end to the standoff made little headway, with both Khan and Qadri saying that Sharif must resign.
But Premier Sharif said that he has already given what was in his jurisdiction and he cannot accept those demands of the anti-government parties which are beyond his constitutional authority. “We have already accepted all their demands, of electoral reforms and establishment of a commission,“ he said to a question.
The government, he said, has requested the Supreme Court for constituting a commission to investigate rigging claims and whatever the commission would hold, would be made public and followed by the government.
But Khan again on Saturday rejected this and reiterated his demand of Sharif’s resignation. Sharif’s government is also under fire since Thursday for asking army to mediate to end the two-week political crisis but Interior Minister Chaudhry Ali Nisar Khan told parliament on Friday the protesters’ unwillingness to trust anyone had left no alternative but army mediation.
The country’s powerful army chief General Raheel Sharif on Thursday held talks with Qadri and Khan in the standoff between the government and protesters. The move has raised fears of increased military dominance over the civilian government in a country ruled for more than half its life by the army.
The protesting leaders have drawn thousands to the streets in Islamabad but their call has not mobilised mass support in a country of 180 million people. But Sharif dismissed the ongoing sit-ins as a diminutive storm. The premier said the current unrest situation would be over soon when everything would be before the people as well.
“This is just a tiny storm, a tumult, which would be ended in a few days,” Sharif said. Nawaz ridiculed the PAT chief Dr Tahirul Qadri’s often cited idiom of the “roaring sea of supporters” in the capital, saying the firebrand cleric’s dharna had become “a sea of empty chairs”.
However, he said that due to the current political uncertainties, the country’s development was jeopardised. The “protest sit-in has caused massive loss to Pakistan’s economy,” he said, “we will retrieve that but they must realise that protests have affected the development projects.” He stated that the facts will be unveiled soon before the nation.
The prime minister said besides huge loss to the economy, Pakistan also faced the cancellation of visit of two presidents to the country which was not good for Pakistan. He said Chinese President is visiting Pakistan next month to sign agreement on vital projects of national interests.
On the demand for ouster of the government he said, it is surprising that the PTI and PAT demand ouster of a government which came to power winning 15 million votes in the last elections. He asserted that no anti-democracy step will be tolerated.
The prime minister, who appeared to be in a jocular mood, reiterated his position that there was no question of giving in to the “unacceptable demands” of the protesting parties. Nawaz Sharif said the national assembly has passed resolution in support of the government and the democratic system and they would not let the conspiracy against the government succeed.
Perhaps both PTI and the PAT had dreamt the same night to launch protest against the government, he said. The mandate given by millions of people to the PML-N cannot be allowed to be taken hostage by a few thousand people, he maintained.
Sharif further stated that everything was sorted out in Bani Gala but it was beyond comprehension that what went wrong all of a sudden. He told that an application has already been filed in the Supreme Court for the commission and the government will respect its decision.