LAHORE/ISLAMABAD - Imran Khan has clearly dashed government hopes of luring his party to talks to avert looming PTI Azadi march, as he asked his party workers to finalise their arrangements for the August 14 ‘tsunami’.
Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chief Friday called upon his followers to take part in the protest ‘at any cost’ by crossing all barriers put up by the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).
“We have advised all our workers and supporters to breach any obstacles laid out before them and reach D-Chowk on August 14 at any cost,” Khan said in statement.
Earlier, PML-N sources had told The Nation that their leadership was using backchannels to woo Imran to call off his party’s million-man long march and come to table for talks on their demands regarding the election rigging and electoral reforms.
They said that Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, who enjoys a good relationship with Khan, had been given the task. They even claimed that as a result of background contacts, both Nisar and Imran are expected to meet on Aug 4 to discuss the issues and demands of the PTI.
But Imran’s lieutenant and PTI vice chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi also told The Nation on Friday that they would go on with their protest plan, strongly denying claims that the government was in touch with certain PTI leaders to call off the ‘million march’.
On the N’s part, Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique questioned on Friday if Imran Khan was ready for negotiations with the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), why he couldn’t hold talks with the government.
Addressing the beginning of the celebrations of ‘Jashn-e-Azadi’ at the mausoleum of Allama Iqbal in Lahore, Saad Rafique said the government would continue persuading Imran until August 13 night for holding talks. A PTI panel also met on Friday to review arrangements for the march. According to PTI’s plans, Imran will lead the main protest rally from Lahore to Islamabad, where it will meet up with rallies originating from other provinces.
Speaking on the issue, Qureshi told The Nation, “The time for dialogue is over and we will launch the Azadi March as per schedule. The government is feeding rumours concerning contacts with PTI to spread confusion among the masses but I want to make it clear that Imran Khan’s followers will march on Islamabad on August 14.”
“The doors of negotiations have been closed by our party and the ruling party should not waste any more time to employ cunning tactics to stop the Azadi march,” he reacted when asked if there was any possibility of agreeing to the government suggestion for talks.
The same day Qureshi told some media outlets over telephone from his home town Multan, “Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif wanted to have a word with Imran Khan but the PTI chief refused to talk to him and there is also no other contact between government and the party leaders.”
About government’s invoking Article 245 of the Constitution to invite Army in the federal capital, Qureshi said the rulers ‘misused’ this article. “The government, by calling Pakistan Army in Islamabad, wants to scare PTI workers but we are determined to carry on with the Aug 14 march,” PTI stalwart said, adding, “our workers won’t clash with military or any other security force.”
The PTI leaders in their Friday meeting also urged the government to refrain from using the army “like it has used the Punjab police, for its vested interests.” PTI said that the Pakistan Army is a national institution and cannot be used for political motives.
Federal Information Minister, Pervez Rasheed, when contacted, insisted: We will (also) contact Shah Mehmood Qureshi tomorrow (Saturday) if he has not been contacted earlier. Confronting Qureshi over his allegation of ‘disinformation campaign’ Rasheed maintained, “Contacts at the highest level between the two parties are highly likely.”
About PTI’s new demand of verifying the entire electoral process of 2013 election, instead of recount in four constituencies, the minister said: Shah Mehmood Qureshi knows very well the consequences if they pursued small political targets at the cost of democratic dispensation. If things go bad then responsibility would be on PTI, he added.
Sources in the government informed our Staff Reporter in Islamabad that government has also completed its homework in case the PTI goes ahead with the march. As a part of the strategy, the PM would be meeting the top leadership of various political parties to woo their support on the issue soon after Eid holidays. The government has already called sessions of both National Assembly and Senate this week to put the matter before the parliament and to mobilise the public opinion against Azadi March.
Political Secretary to PM Asif Kirmani said in a statement, “The prime minister is closely monitoring the situation from Lahore. He will be back in Islamabad on Monday and is expected to hold meetings with senior ministers.” “Pakistan cannot afford long marches at a time when its valiant forces are engaged in the Zarb-i-Azb operation,” Kirmani remarked. He said Imran should discuss ideas for reforms in the parliament instead of on the streets.