ISLAMABAD, Nov 6 (AGENCIES): The Pakistan government should present its suggestions to the opposition parties if it wants to find a middle ground and break the deadlock, firebrand cleric-cum-politician Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who has been leading the ‘Azadi March’ demanding the ouster of Prime Minister Imran Khan, said on Wednesday. The right-wing Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F) leader is leading the massive protest, which entered the sixth day on Wednesday. Dubbed as ‘Azadi March’, the protestors demand Prime Minister Khan’s resignation, accusing him of “rigging” the 2018 general elections.
The opposition parties, including the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan People Party (PPP), have also thrown their weight behind the massive anti-government rally comprising thousands of protesters in Islamabad.
Speaking to the media following his meeting with Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi and PML-Q president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, Rehman said: “the stage for a positive reply has not yet arrived”.
“It is everyone’s country, when the ship sinks, we all sink. There is restlessness in the country and it is everyone’s responsibility to end this [restlessness],” he was quoted as saying by the Dawn newspaper.
Rehman said if the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government wanted to find a middle ground, it should present its suggestions, then the Opposition will see. He claimed that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had itself admitted that 95 per cent of the forms did not even have signatures and asked why the parliamentary commission had not been activated for a year.
“Imran Khan is not a bigger man than Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, if he had re-elections why can’t [Imran]? We don’t want to drag in the establishment,” the JUI-F leader said. The protest in the capital is the first concerted opposition challenge that Khan has faced since he won the general election last year.
Prime minister Khan on Wednesday expressed concerns over the well being of the protestors and asked the authorities to visit the protest venue.
“I have directed the CDA Chairman to immediately visit the dharna site to assess what relief and assistance can be provided to the dharna participants with the onset of rain and changing weather conditions,” Khan said in a tweet. His remarks came a day after the second round of talks between the Pakistan government and opposition leaders failed to break the ongoing deadlock between the two sides even as Khan said that he was ready to accept all “valid” demands of the ‘Azadi March’ protesters.
A delegation led by former prime minister Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain met the 66-year-old cleric on Monday night, hours after the government’s negotiating team led by Defence Minister Khattak held talks with the Opposition’s Rehbar Committee headed by JUI-F leader Akram Khan Durrani and discussed their demands.
In its list of demands, the Rehbar Committee sought the premier’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. Rehman on Monday asked his supporters to continue their anti-government protest with “perseverance” and “courage”, as the 48-hour deadline set by him for Prime Minister Khan’s resignation expired.
He said the movement to oust the prime minister “will continue to move ahead and will never be on the back foot”. Rehman on Friday gave Khan a two-day ultimatum to resign, saying the “Gorbachev of Pakistan” must step down without testing the patience of peaceful protestors. The cleric said the protest would continue until Khan steps down.