–Foreign Minister Qureshi says Khattak-led committee formed to listen to JUI-F chief’s ‘reasonable demands’
–Maulana Fazl rejects any possibility of talks ‘before a resignation is handed in’
–Bilawal and Ahsan Iqbal throw parties’ weight behind JUI-F, support demand for PM Imran’s resignation
ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government on Wednesday decided to engage with Maulana Fazlur Rehman in response to the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief’s declaration to march on Islamabad on October 31, however the latter has turned down the offer “till a resignation is handed in”.
Addressing reporters after a meeting of the PTI core committee chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said that a small political committee has been formed under Defence Minister Pervez Khattak “to get in touch with Maulana Fazlur Rehman”.
“We are a political party and are fully capable and willing to deliver a political solution to political matters,” said Qureshi.
The foreign minister said that if anything the JUI-F chief says during the resultant talks “has political weight, we are ready to listen to it and if a reasonable solution emerges, we will accord that priority”.
“It is not that we have any fear, I must lay stress on this.
“If someone thinks that with a dharna, governments can be sent packing then we have a 126-day experience in this […] we are not novices in the matter,” said Qureshi, with a slight smile.
He reiterated that a political solution to the conflict must be sought, explaining that Pakistan is now fighting for the Kashmir cause on international fora and a unified stance must be presented in that regard.
“October 27 is that despicable day on which Indian forces landed in Srinagar and captured Kashmir,” he said, pausing to lay emphasis on the word to highlight the solemnity that must be accorded to the day.
He said that the government’s Kashmir Cell had therefore decided to observe the day with due respect and in solidarity with Kashmiris.
“So we have to see whether we harm this larger purpose in pursuit of a narrower, local agenda,” he said.
Qureshi said that the other consideration is that the government had just surmounted a great economic challenge over the past 13 months and brought Pakistan back to stability.
“When our government took over the helm of affairs, all the macroeconomic indicators were painting a very dire picture, whether it is the fiscal deficit, the current account deficit, the trade deficit, the investment levels, the unemployment figures, exports, imports, or debt servicing capabilities.
“So just now we have begun to witness an economic turnaround, and at this time if there is even a hint of instability, it will adversely affect our economy,” explained the foreign minister.
He said that keeping the aforementioned factors in view, the government had decided in favour of political engagement. “Let’s see what response we get.”
FAZL TURNS DOWN OFFER:
Meanwhile, the JUI-F chief has rejected the government’s peace overture.
In a press conference in another part of the federal capital, Maulana Fazl outright rejected any possibility of talks with the government “before a resignation is handed in”.
“We have no knowledge of such a committee and neither have we been contacted,” he said.
“Before any talks take place, a resignation is mandatory, so that the situation post-resignation can be debated,” said the JUI-F chief. “No negotiation can take place on the condition of a resignation.”
“If any state institution tries to create hurdles in the people’s way then it would be assumed that the institution is not being used for the state but for someone else,” he added.
The JUI-F chief also warned against the imposition of martial law in the country.
“Let me be very clear. If an institution tries to impose martial law, we will turn the direction of the ‘Azadi march’ towards it,” he said, insisting that he did not want a clash with any state institution.
Government sources said that the prime minister was of the view that the JUI-F was being used by other opposition parties to serve their own ends and that the government believed that Fazlur Rehman could still be reasoned with.
Previously, PM Imran had decided to form a mediating team comprising Interior Minister Brig (r) Ijaz Shah, chief ministers of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), Minister for Religious Affairs & Interfaith Harmony Noorul Haq Qadri among others.
Sources in the federal government claim that the prime minister had reviewed his previous decision to engage the Maulana after some input from ‘concerned quarters’.
Reacting to Fazl’s announcement, Defence Minister Khattak said the JUI-F chief must have talks with the government because no one will find anything walking into a street with dead-end.
“Peaceful protest is the right of everyone, but action will be taken if it is harming the country,” he warned.
Khattak said that Fazlur Rehman’s one-point agenda is to remove Prime Minister Imran, which is not possible.
“Dialogues cannot be held with that attitude and not having talks with the government will be a conspiracy against the country,” he said, adding that dialogue will not tarnish the reputation of Maulana.
PPP BACKS FAZL:
In a related development, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said his party has decided to throw its weight behind Maulana Fazl and support his decision to go against the PTI government.
Bilawal, while speaking to media in Rato Dero, reiterated: “PPP thinks government will have to go.”
He said a lot of people have been rendered jobless under a conspiracy and the government is now planning to deprive more people of employment by closing 400 departments.
“Fawad Chaudhry’s narrative is the actual policy of Khan Saheb,” he said in a reference to the science and technology minister’s recent statement.
The minister was reported to have said that government was not responsible for providing jobs. But the minister later rejected the reports saying he was talking about government jobs only.
PML-N CALLS FOR FRESH ELECTIONS:
Meanwhile, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) leader Ahsan Iqbal said his party supports Maulana Fazl’s demand for the prime minister’s resignation.
Calling for fresh election, he said sending the government home was vital to protect the country.