ISLAMABAD/Lahore - With an informal meeting between Federal Minister Ahsan Iqbal and PTI leader Asad Umar at the latter’s residence, the stalled negotiation process is back on track and a formal meeting between the two parties is likely to take place tomorrow evening or on Sunday.
In the negotiations, the government team would comprise Senator Minister Ishaq Dar and Ahsan Iqbal while Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) would be represented by Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Asad Umar.
In a brief media interaction here on Thursday after the meeting, Federal Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal said that he had positive interaction with Asad. He said that they would pick up the negotiations from where they had left and hoped that they would take the process to its logical conclusion for the collective good of the system.
Ahsan hoped that the formal meeting between the two sides would take place either on Saturday evening or Sunday, just before Monday’s PTI shutdown of Lahore – the provincial capital of Punjab and bastion of ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).
Ahsan Iqbal has appealed to the PTI to play their due role in the Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reforms to help purge the electoral system of all sorts of anomalies for future. PTI has three members in the committee who are on boycott of the proceedings since the launch of their sit-in and protest against the alleged rigging in 2013 General Elections. The party MPs from the National Assembly and Punjab Assembly had also tendered their resignations which were pending with the respective Speakers offices of both the assemblies.
When contacted, Asad Umar while restricting himself to few words said, “Attorney General assisted Ahsan Iqbal, while a senior jurist assisted me during the first informal direct interaction for resuming the talks.”
Imran Khan’s top aide said, “First formal meeting with the government team will be held today (Saturday) to start the dialogue where it broke down in September. Shah Mehmood Qureshi will lead the PTI side, while Ishaq Dar will lead the government team.”
But sources in the government said that most likely the first round of formal talks would take place on Sunday because Senator Ishaq Dar, who would be spearheading the government negotiation team, is busy in connection with Hazrat Datta Ganj Bakhsh Urs celebrations, concluding on late Saturday night.
Sources in the government informed that Ahsan Iqbal in his meeting with Asad Umar asked him that soon after the resumption of formal talks between the two sides the PTI should at least defer its protest plan so that the talks could be carried forward in conducive and cordial atmosphere.
PTI Chairman Imran Khan in his address on Wednesday night had welcomed the government decision to resume talks but made it clear that till the constitution of judicial commission PTI would continue with its protest programme.
Now before the formal interaction between the government and PTI teams, the Karachi shutdown by PTI would be over and PTI would be bracing for bringing the life to a standstill in Lahore on Monday, giving no reasonable time to the negotiation teams to work out modalities for constitution of Judicial Commission.
Asad Umar said, “PTI will not withdraw the shutdown calls of major cities till getting positive results out of the upcoming parleys with the government to launch probe into poll rigging during 2013 electoral process.”
He however added, “The first interaction with the government team member after September, was constructive and I hope the government will sincerely pursue the fresh talks and take steps demanded by us for launching a transparent and thorough investigation into poll rigging of 2013.”
A PTI insider told The Nation on Thursday that Asad Umar in his meeting with Ahsan Iqbal reiterated PTI demand for a Special Investigation Team (SIT) – including members of ISI and MI – under the judicial commission, and the two leaders discussed the legal and constitutional matters pertaining to it. He also informed that it was agreed in the meeting that first formal dialogue between the two sides would be started from the point it broke down in September this year.
PTI central leader Arif Alvi had told The Nation in an interview in November that government during the talks with his party at the Convention Centre in September agreed to employ the services of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence (MI) for probe into poll rigging.
He claimed that one of the major points of the agreement was employing the services of country’s top intelligence agencies. The likely body for poll rigging probe was to be named as Special Investigation Team (SIT) under the command of the judicial commission, he had said.
It was agreed by the government team that the prime minister would request the Chief Justice of Pakistan for constituting an inquiry commission for poll rigging, while the SIT comprising ISI and MI as top investigators would work under the Supreme Court inquiry commission, the PTI leader held.
He said, “PTI had agreed to give concession to the ruling party that poll rigging investigations would be carried out under Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif but to counterbalance this concession we had demanded ISI and MI role in the investigations.”
When asked if it was not the prerogative of a Supreme Court inquiry commission to select investigators of its choice, he insisted: The government agreed employing the top intelligence services for the poll rigging probe and it is doable according to the Constitution.
Previously the deadlock in negotiations was mainly on the issue of prime minister’s resignation during the period of electoral audit or at least his detachment from the position of PM for the period of inquiry, both plainly rejected by the government negotiation team which termed it a non-negotiable point.
But now with the deletion of main point of contention between the two sides political analysts hoped that both sides would finally land at same page for the audit of the elections. But many in the ruling PML-N and PTI still saw many a hurdles in the way, particularly the sharp differences between the two sides on the definition of rigging and the terms of reference for the high-powered Judicial Commission to be formed to probe the rigging charges.
Similarly, the timeframe for the audit of the elections and the modus operandi also needed to be finalised between the two sides, because PTI wanted the accomplishment of the task within six weeks time while the PML-N was not ready for giving any timeline to the commission.
Another point of contention between the two was that PML-N wanted the constitution of the commission through an act of Parliament while PTI demanded its formation through a Presidential ordinance so that the audit work could immediately be completed.
Initially, during negotiation with the government, the PTI had placed six demands before the government: 1) Resignation of the prime minister and Punjab chief minister; 2) Audit of the government’s 14-month expenses; 3) Bringing culprits of the alleged vote fraud in the 2013 general elections to book; 4) Electoral reforms prior to fresh elections; 5) Re-elections for all assemblies; and 6) Installation of impartial interim government before new elections.