The four-day picketing of Parliament House for systemic changes ended on Thursday night with the government agreeing to allow Pakistani-Canadian cleric-politician Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri have a say in the appointment of a caretaker Prime Minister to oversee the elections.
Though Dr. Qadri had demanded immediate dissolution of Parliament and Provincial Assemblies; disbanding of the Election Commission; sweeping electoral reforms; and involvement of the judiciary and military in formation of the interim government, none of these were conceded.
What the government conceded is an additional month for conducting elections so that nomination papers are scrutinised to weed out corrupt and criminal elements, and proposing two honest and impartial nominees for appointment as caretaker Premier in ‘complete consensus’ with Dr. Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek. A final decision would need the Opposition’s nod.
The Islamabad Long March Declaration was signed by Prime Minister Raja Parvez Ashraf after a 10-member committee appointed this afternoon to negotiate with Dr. Qadri came to an agreement. The decision to begin talks was taken after the cleric issued another ultimatum in the afternoon while addressing the rain-soaked gathering from the confines of his bullet-proof mobile quarters. The government went in for the talks with across-the-board support for democracy and in a bid to end the siege for fear of inclement weather taking a toll on the health of those picketing Parliament House.
Led by former Premier Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, the committee included members from all parties in the coalition. Together, they went to Dr. Qadri’s camp office outside Parliament House and were closeted with him for several hours.
The people picketing the business district of the federal capital since Monday could see them at work and the scene inside when the meeting began was a sight to behold and drew considerable jibes. The man who just an hour ago heaped ridicule on politicians and called them all sorts of names hugged each member including federal Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira who had mimicked him on national television on Wednesday. While social media buzzed with digs galore at Dr. Qadri, the ability of politicians to speak to each other despite differences was hailed by some as yet another victory for democracy.
On Dr. Qadri’s demand for immediate dissolution of Parliament and Provincial Assemblies, President Asif Ali Zardari gave a clear ‘no’ while the talks were on by summoning both Houses of Parliament on Monday. As for disbanding the Election Commission, both sides agreed to discuss its composition in days to come as members can only be impeached and all political parties on Wednesday reposed full faith in the five-member authority.
The overwhelming perception among analysts is that Dr. Qadri’s entire exercise was geared to broadbasing the consultative process for setting up the interim government so that the establishment can get a seat on the high table currently reserved exclusively for politicians.
While all eyes remained trained on the negotiations, the Supreme Court adjourned hearing in the case pertaining to the arrest of the Prime Minister in the Rental Power Plants scam after the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) said the evidence against him was weak. The Court took a grim view of NAB’s position as it had not proceeded to arrest the Premier despite Tuesday’s orders to do so within 24 hours.