ISLAMABAD     -    The government on Saturday refused to cave in to opposition’s demands of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s resignation and re-elections as JUI-F led protest in Islamabad sit-in entered its third day.

The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) took this decision in a meeting of its core committee — the highest-level decision making forum of the party — which met under the chair of Prime Minister Imran Khan.

“We will not talk on PM’s resignation and no one should think of it,” Defence Minister Pervez Khattak told reporters about meeting’s decisions.

The defence minister was talking along with other senior party leaders and members of government’s negotiation team, which was formed to talks with the opposition parties.

Khattak, who heads the negotiation team, said that PTI core committee also decided to approach the court over Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s remarks, which he made in his address to protest marchers.

“They are instigating the people and want mutiny. We are preparing the case and will file it on Monday,” he said.

Fazl on Friday had given two days ultimatum to the prime minister to resign while questioning the “legitimacy” of his government. Otherwise, he warned, the protesters have the capability to enter PM House and “arrest” him.

Khattak and other members of his team said that the government feared that JUI-F led protesters would move towards the capital’s high security red zone after the expiry of the ultimatum on Sunday evening.

“Action will be taken if they violated the agreement already signed between the government and JUI-F leadership,” he added.

Backed by other opposition parties, the orange-turbaned JUI-F chief who was once an anti-American firebrand is leading this protest “Azadi March” seeking resignation of PM and fresh elections.

The main convoy of the marchers led by Fazl had set off from Karachi on October 27 and camped on Kashmir Highway of Islamabad, a few kilometres away from red zone, on Thursday.

The defence minister said that the government was ready to talk with opposition’s negotiation team, named Rehbar Committer, on issues like inflation and economy but the demand of PM’s resignation was off the table.

“They have no demands (in hand) except the resignation demand,” he said, adding that this means that 30,000 to 40,000 people could march on Islamabad and send an elected government packing forcefully.

“Then democracy cannot work in this country and this means opposition doesn’t want democracy [to prevail]. Opposition parties haven’t approached any forum for investigations into the allegations of election rigging till yet,” he said.

The federal minister and PTI MNA Ali Amin Gandapur, who defeated JUI-F chief in his home constituency, was even ready to surrender his seat for the re-election, Khattak said.

Talking about the speeches the opposition leaders delivered in Friday’s rally, the minister said that state institutions were criticised there — a reference to Pakistan Army. “The [PTI] core committee has deplored these remarks.”

He said that the Director General of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the media wing of military, Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor has clarified that army would stand by any democratic government as per its constitutional duty.

“These institutions have sacrificed for the country and if they [opposition] will start criticising them, then who will work in Pakistan,” he asked, as he alleged the opposition of being “anti-Pakistan.”

The ruling party leader said that Maulana used the religion card in his speech in the presence of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who earlier had been saying that no such card should not be used in politics.

Khattak also criticised the speech of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Shehbaz Sharif who while speaking at the protest venue said that they would have done miracles if the institutions [read Army] had lent them even 10 percent of the support it was giving to the PTI.

and former chief minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif

The defence minister said that it happened for the first time in country’s history that army played neutral and that was exactly why the Sharif’s party faced defeat in 2018 general elections.

Responding to a question, the minister said that army and other state institutions could not be separated from the government and when chaos is created, all the institutions under the government come into action to restore peace and normalcy.

The government negotiation team said they were in contact with the opposition parties but showed concerns that on one side the opposition had signed an agreement with the government that the protesters would remain peaceful while on the other hand they were hurling threats.

“We hope that they will not violate the agreement,” Khattak said. Otherwise, law would take its course, he warned. “Then don’t blame us.”

He added that “government is never so powerless that they [protesters] come, take over and seek PM’s resignation after entering his house.”

He challenged that he could bring out more PTI followers than these protesters pulled by at least nine opposition parties. “Then, would they apologize [over their actions]?”

The minister alleged that the opposition parties have bad motives as the Kashmir issue has been put on the back burner with this protest.

Replying to a question that some protesters had been found carrying flags of a militant organisation, he said that the protesters [apparently] wanted to speared chaos and the administration would take action.

Asked about the extension in the services of Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Khattak said a three-year extension in his service had already been notified.

PTI MNA Asad Umar, talking on the occasion, said that these were the clear directions of courts that protest could be held only where the government would allow it to be held and entering the Red Zone therefore would be a contempt of court.

He said that PTI core committee also discussed measure to control inflation.

Negotiation team meets PM

Earlier, Prime Minister Imran Khan held a separate meeting with the seven-member government negotiation team.

He was quoted as saying that he would not accept the “unconstitutional and undemocratic demands” of his resignation and fresh elections. However, the PM advised the committee to continue negotiating with the Rehbar Committee.

The negotiation team had sped up its efforts to convince the opposition to call off its sit-in protest and held a meeting at Senate Chairman Muhamamd Sadiq Sanjrani’s residence.

The meeting decided to increase its contacts with the opposition leaders. For this purpose, National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser, a member of the committee, made a telephonic contact with Awami National Party (ANP) leader Mian Iftikhar Hussain and Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif and sought their help to end the deadlock.

Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani, also a member of committee, contacted PPP leader and former Senate chairman Nayyer Hussain Bokhari and requested him to play his role in resolving the political crisis.