Pak govt tells 'Azadi March' protestors to come to negotiating table to resolve differences
Islamabad: The Pakistan government on Friday told the opposition leaders, led by firebrand cleric-cum-politician Maulana Fazlur Rehman, to end their agitation, even as the protestors demanding resignation of Prime Minister Imran Khan refused to call off their massive sit-in that has entered the eight day.
Dubbed as 'Azadi March', the massive protest led by right-wing Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F) leader is held to topple the Khan-led government. The opposition leaders accuse Khan of "rigging" the 2018 general elections.
Addressing thousands of protesters on Thursday night, Rehman said the government negotiators should not come for talks if the prime minister's resignation was off the table.
Defence Minister Pervez Khattak, during a National Assembly session on Friday, told the opposition parties to "come to the table" to resolve all differences.
"Keep sitting [on protest], but do not harm the country," Khattak, who is leading the government's negotiation committee, was quoted as saying by the Dawn newspaper.
Khattak has alleged that Rehman considered negotiations with the government committee as "time pass".
"They [opposition] are not even ready to listen. Maulana sahib says that this jirga is a time pass. Fine, then we are also passing time with you," Khattak said.
Members of the Opposition, however, threatened that the JUI-F sit-in will continue.
The opposition parties are protesting in the assembly against government's move of passing 11 ordinances on Thursday without holding a debate.
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Khawaja Asif said the passing of laws through ordinances was not a "good omen" and warned that if the government continued with the practice, it would "ruin democracy".
Addressing Khattak's remarks during the session, he said: "[Your party] sowed these seeds. You were the one who danced on top of a container."
The opposition leaders on Thursday gave Prime Minister Khan a 48-hour ultimatum to resign, saying the massive anti-government protest will take a new direction after two days.
"The Azadi March will take a new direction after two days," said senior JUI-F leader Akram Khan Durrani.
Rehman on Wednesday warned that chaos will ensue if their demands were not met.
The opposition parties, including the (PML-N) and the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), have thrown their weight behind the massive anti-government rally in Islamabad.
The protest in the capital is the first concerted opposition challenge that Khan has faced since he won the general election last year.
In its list of demands, the Opposition's Rehbar Committee has sought Khan's resignation and fresh elections in the country without the supervision of the armed forces.
The government, on the other hand, has demanded that the committee end the sit-in.
The Pakistan Army on Wednesday said that it is "too busy" in matters of national security to get involved in any political issue, apparently referring to the protest.
Pakistan Army spokesman Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor made the comments in an interview to Hum News Channel when asked if the Army chief will mediate in the ongoing demonstration by the cleric-cum-politician.
Ghafoor told the channel that the army had nothing to do with the politics of sit-ins.
"We are too busy in matters of national security and defence to become involved in things like these and respond to these allegations," he said.
When asked if the army chief would try to resolve the ongoing dharna against the government, he said, "the dharna is a political activity which the army as an institution has nothing to do with."
He rejected the impression that the army was against the government when Khan staged a similar sit-in in 2014 and said that the military had supported the government.