ISLAMABAD    -   Defence Minister Pervez Khattak Saturday told the opposition parties that the government is open to talks and any refusal from them to sit and negotiate for finding a solution to call off the protest march would mean they have an anti-Kashmir agenda.

Khattak, the head of government’s seven-member negotiation team, also issued a warning saying that the law would take its course if the opposition stuck to holding the anti-government long march on Islamabad on October 31. “Then all responsibility would fall on the opposition.”

Fazlur Rehman, the chief of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) had announced on October 3 that they would march on Islamabad to send the government packing in protest against the alleged rigging in the 2018 general elections.

Earlier this week, the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) formed the committee to negotiate with the JUI-F and other opposition parties to convince them to cancel their planned protest seeking resignation of Prime Minister Imran Khan and fresh elections.

“We request all opposition parties to sit on the table and talk to us if you have some [reasonable] demand or an issue. We are democratic people and can resolve the matter through discussion,” said the minister while addressing a press conference along with Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood at the Parliament House.

Khattak, who is a senior leader of the ruling party and also a former chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, informed reporters that they were in contact with senior leaders of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Awami National Party (ANP) and JUI-F. “We are getting a good response and I hope that they will sit and talk with us,” he claimed.

He however warned at the same time that “if you [opposition] will not sit on the table and will not give your demands, there will be chaos”. Then all the responsibility of any bad happening would fall on the opposition parties as the government would have fulfilled its responsibility of an invite to hold talks, he added.

“Then no one should complain to us, because the government will decide [the matters] as per law and constitution, and everyone would have to face this [action],” warned an otherwise coolheaded Khattak.

The minister said that the refusal of the opposition to talks pointed to some hidden and anti-Kashmir agenda. The country is standing at a critical juncture and it looked that Kashmir issue now had been put on the back burner due to opposition’s protest call. Look at the Indian media coverage, they are happy that chaos in Pakistan was on the cards and it looks that they were working on their agenda.

He said no one should be in a misunderstanding that the government had formed this committee out of fear. “We are not frightened but we are concerned that who will compensate if lives and properties of the people suffered any damage.”

Khattak said that government would protect lives and properties of people and ensure its writ. “If someone challenged the government, he should keep in mind that government doesn’t mean only that of Prime Minister Imran Khan, rather it actually means the state, and there is a system and he [who would take law in their hands] should be given a fitting reply.”

The defence minister appealed to JUI-F chief Fazlur Rehman that he should think for Pakistan and added that if the opposition leader had love for the people of Indian Occupied Kashmir, he should sit and talk with the government.

He rejected criticism on some of the nominations in the seven-member committee. “We have included Senate Chairman Muhammad Sadiq Sanjrani, National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser, and Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi because we want to make the whole process meaningful.” Khattak said that only Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal Alyani would be replaced with Sanjrani next week if the former agreed.

Responding to a question about PM Imran Khan’s critical remarks regarding Maulana in a recently held ceremony at Islamabad’s Jinnah Convention Centre, the minister said that no one has accused anyone, and the people should also see the language of JUI-F.

“Politicians talk hard in political rallies but when we sit together, we have to set aside the differences in the larger interest of the country.”

The minister said that it was wrong to compare PTI’s protest march of 2014 with that of JUI-F as they had decided to hold this after all doors were closed for them. “We had some demands in our hands [at that time], he said, adding that PTI while in opposition had been submitting their demands in the NA but the present opposition never made any move. “We had been negotiating with the government.”

Khattak said that the demand of JUI-F about the resignation of Prime Minister Imran Khan was impossible to meet.

Asked if the opposition wanted some underhand deal like NRO (National Reconciliation Ordinance), he said that they should present something on the table and then the government would look into it. About PM’s rhetoric that he would not give any NRO like deal to the opposition, he said that doors for talks could not be closed in a democratic set-up.

He said that the mandate of their committee was limited to holding dialogue and if talks failed, the Ministry of Interior and other institutions would decide what action needs to be taken.

Speaking on the occasion, Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood said that he had concerns about JUI-F’s intentions to force the students of madrassas to participate in their protest. He urged the religio-political party not to drag children into politics.

He warned that Maulana Fazl, according to some videos being shared on social media, is directly attacking state institutions that are directly relevant to the state security. “We are open to dialogue but we will not tolerate such attacks,” he said.

Regarding the government’s possible banning Ansarul Islam, the sister organization of JUI-F, he said that it had been clearly mentioned in National Action Plan that armed groups would not be allowed to operate and the activities of the organization were “inappropriate.”

Monitoring Desk adds: A high-powered committee entrusted with the task of holding dialogue with JUI-F made its first formal contact with the party on Saturday.

According to TV channel reports, Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani held a telephonic conversation with JUI-F leader Abdul Ghafoor Haideri.

The committee led by Pervez Khattak will meet the JUI-F leader at 8pm today at his residence at the Parliament Lodges.

In a statement following the telephonic conversation, Haideri said they are ready to hold talks with the committee if it visits them for the purpose. He said they will see how far the government listens to their demands.