ISLAMABAD - The standoff and tension between the government and protesting parties seemed subsiding with both PTI and PAT agreeing to hold negotiations with the PML-N regime.
However, if the information coming out of both camps is taken on the face value, preliminary talks Wednesday opened and concluded on a deadlock as both PTI and PAT demanded PM Nawaz Sharif and CM Shahbaz Sharif’s resignations, while the government emissaries offered them no concession on it.
After marathon deliberations and brainstorming with core committee of the party, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif constituted two committees to separately hold talks with Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) leadership to come up with some amicable solution to the crisis.
Sources in the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) revealed that while constituting these committees such leaders were included who enjoy relatively good relations with the prominent leaders of the protesting parties. Another source in the party confirmed that before constituting these committees, the leadership of both PAT and PTI were also taken into confidence.
The government negotiating team which met with the PTI committee late Wednesday night comprised Punjab Governor Ch Muhammad Sarwar, Ch Nisar Ali Khan, Ahsan Iqbal and Abdul Qadir Baloch. From PTI side, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Jahangir Tareen, Dr Arif Alvi, Asad Umar and Aleem Khan took part in the negotiations.
The meeting between government and PTI teams was held at a local hotel and, according to some PML-N insiders, the PTI team persisted with the demand of prime minister’s resignation. Interestingly, PTI had presented their core demands even before their maiden meeting with the government team. The demands included resignation of both PM Sharif and Punjab CM Shahbaz Sharif, electoral reforms, reconstitution of the Election Commission of Pakistan, recounting of votes in certain constituencies and action against those found involved in rigging in the previous general elections.
The second government committee, which held first round of talks with a PAT committee, initially comprised Kh Saad Rafique, Abdul Qadir Baloch, Haider Abbas Rizvi and Ijazul Haq, but Saad Rafique was withdrawn on the objection of PAT leadership because his name was among the persons nominated by PAT in the murder of their activists in Model Town incident. The government immediately replaced Saad with Ahsan Iqbal to continue with the dialogue process.
In their first meeting with Dr Tahirul Qadri, which was held at the stage of their protest venue, the PAT chief accepted the dialogue offer by the government and said that he would hold talks with the government through a committee comprising Sardar Asif Ahmed Ali, Ghulam Mustafa Khar and Khurram Nawaz Gandapur.
At the conclusion of the first round of talks, PAT spokesman Raheeq Abbassi informed the media that the preliminary meeting with the government’s committee was held in a comfortable atmosphere and they had put their demands before them. He said their demands included resignation of PM and Punjab CM and registration of FIR against the persons nominated by them in Model Town incident.
Raheeq Abbassi said that they considered that in the presence of incumbent federal and Punjab governments, justice could not be done to them so the removal of both these governments was imperative for independent and transparent inquiry into the Model Town killing incident. He coarsely referred to the rest of the demands but made it clear that they would only proceed further with the dialogue process only after the acceptance of their above-said primary demands.
But PML-N sources informed that during these meetings one thing was made clear that neither prime minister nor Punjab CM would step down and the talks would focus on rest of the demands of both these parties.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif held a series of meetings with his close aides and devised strategies to neutralise the situation. Sources informed The Nation that it was the unanimous decision of the party leadership that the demand of PM’s resignation would not be accepted, though they would show extra flexibility to accommodate rest of the demands of the protesters.
Prominent among those who were present in these meetings (with the PM) were Punjab governor, Punjab CM, and federal ministers Ch Nisar Ali Khan, Ishaq Dar, Kh Asif, Abdul Qadir Baloch, Saad Rafique and Ahsan Iqbal. The input of military leadership to defuse the prevailing tension also came under discussion.
Shahbaz Sharif and Nisar also had a detailed meeting with Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif earlier in the day and discussed the ways and means to defuse the situation. Later, they both briefed Premier Sharif about that meeting.
Sources informed that some apolitical people and religious scholars belonging to Barelvi school of thought were also engaged in efforts to bring the PAT chief to the negotiation table. Earlier, both PAT and PTI leadership had flatly refused to hold talks with the government and declined to meet both the government and Opposition committees.
PM Nawaz Sharif has once again directed the interior minister to be soft on the protesters and avoid use of force against them. It was further decided in the PML-N meeting that the demonstrators would also be provided with water and other facilities while their complaints against the restriction on the vehicles bringing in food for them would be addressed on an urgent basis. However, in the wake of threats coming from both Imran and Qadri, the security of PM House was beefed up.