LAHORE - The government on Wednesday offered the PTI resumption of unconditional talks and set up a two-member committee for interaction with the protesting party to deescalate tension gripping the country for the last four months.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and core committee of his PML-N have given a go-ahead to resume the talks with PTI, picking up the thread from the point it was left in September. Finance Minister Ishaq Dar told a press conference that the decision was an expression of fidelity with the country and they have urged the PTI to also call off their protest in the larger national interest.

Dar said Federal Minister Ahsan Iqbal and he have been named members of the government team which will try for the earliest resumption of the suspended dialogue on the issues of probe into alleged election rigging through a judicial commission, electoral reforms and improvement in the caretaker set-up.

Dar said they have been and are in contact with the PTI leaders and would prefer to resume talks Thursday (today) and for which they want the PTI to name its committee members. While informing the media that he has been trying to contact Shah Mehmood Qureshi for the last two hours, Dar said they don’t want to waste time. With reference to Qureshi’s statement and his interaction with him, Dar said the other side was also willing to restart negotiations as well as come back to the parliament to play role in the political process and serve the country.

The finance minister welcomed the PTI gesture of dropping their demand of prime minister’s resignation or his proceedings on leave while the commission probes the rigging charges and said it was a demand quite outside the ambit of law and the constitution. He said they wanted meaningful talks within the legal and constitutional sphere. He said the government is committed to making the talks successful and wanted the other side to reciprocate the good sentiment.

He told a questioner the PTI has been urged to give up the protest but it was not a precondition for talks. He said the country was passing through a critical situation and it cannot afford politics of protest. He also said the govt will take all parliamentary parties into confidence on this development.

The minister said that the relevant parliamentary committee was already engaged with electoral reforms and other points of discussion with the PTI, and would like the latter to also join that forum (committee).

To a question on the PTI demand for including ISI and MI in the judicial commission, Dar recalled that they did not concede to this demand. He said that the commission will comprise the judges of the highest court of the country who are empowered to take assistance of anybody.

He said yes or no about the election fairness would come through the commission and the parties would be bound to concede to its decision. If rigging is established, the government will not have any justification to stay on, he added. Dar said they wanted futuristic reforms for free and fair elections and added that the sub-committee of the parliament has reviewed five of the six points on the agenda on receiving as many as 1,283 proposals which would be consolidated into a unified law.

The finance minister told the media about the economic successes of the government and said the economy has been set on the right direction and microeconomic indicators were very positive. He said the economy was at the takeoff stage when the PTI sit-ins started. He added dharna politics has affected confidence of the foreign investors which the government had built after hectic efforts. The supreme national interest and loyalty with the country demands the PTI to put off the protest, he urged. Observing that the national interest must be kept ahead of everything else, he said the PML-N does not make anything a matter of ego.

To a question, Dar said they had set precondition for talks before PTI show on November 30 but after that they wanted dialogue. He said the gory incident of Faisalabad could have been averted had talks resumed.

When asked about any role JI-led Jirga in the resumption of talks, the minister said it was independent decision of the government. Dar said both the sides never went out of touch for dialogue.

About a petition filed against the newly-appointed Chief Election Commissioner, he said the CEC enjoyed a fixed constitutional tenure and cannot be removed without a constitutionally valid and cogent reason.