ISLAMABAD – FASIHUR REHMAN KHAN - President Asif Zardari and coalition partners were happily surprised on Thursday afternoon as back channel negotiators finally gave them a strong signal that Dr Tahirul Qadri was ready to end the four-day long sit-in provided he was given a "face saving".

"On Wednesday night and Thursday morning Dr Qadri was consistently sending reconciliatory signals to the inner circle of President Zardari. Through his public rhetoric, he sent a defiant message to his followers, the media and public at large," a top aide to President Zardari told TheNation on the condition of anonymity.

Earlier on Wednesday, some presidential aides feared a Lal Masjid like outcome if a crackdown was launched against the sit-in. The possible resultant backlash from the garrison was being considered a dreadful scenario by the PPP coalition partners which they thought would precede by an abrupt end of the ruling coalition. MQM, PML-Q were all set to leave the ruling coalition in such an eventuality, PPP leadership firmly believed.

But, after having made up its mind not to use force on the marchers, a relieved PPP leadership looked towards PML-Q President Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain to move forward with his peace overtures.  Favourable signals, later in the day on Thursday, prompted the PPP co-chairperson to ask some of his close advisors to pen down points of his expected televised speech to the nation, but only after doing away with Dr Qadri's long march through some give and take.

The first and foremost aim of the "face saving" agreement was to end the march and resultant sit-in, rest of the details were to be left for committees to thrash out. As a result, no real concession on re-constitution of the EC and holding of polls, as demanded by Qadri, was offered to the religious cleric as the ruling coalition was not in a position to amend the constitution for the purpose without mainstream opposition's support.

Sources said fearing a backlash from the military establishment if Islamabad's D-Chowk was practically turned (through violence) into an Egyptian Tahrir Square model, President Zardari just wanted to make sure that any written and verbal assurances given to Dr Qadri should not be rejected outright by the main opposition party, the PML-N. With these fears in mind, Zardari phoned PML-N President Mian Nawaz Sharif who gave his blessings to the peace deal, but made it clear that his party didn't attach any importance to PPP and coalition's agreement with Qadri, neither will it endorse it. Sources said during these last five eventful long march days, the PPP big wigs were especially keeping in mind the recent contacts between military establishment and the PML-N leadership wherein the later was asked to cooperate in case emergency was imposed in the country.

But, instead, the PML-N leadership gathered a representative gathering of the opposition figures from all over the country to send a strong message to ruling coalition as well as military establishment that they would not be blackmailed through such threats.