South Asia

On Army request, Sharif government opens talks with protestors

In this August 20, 2014 photo, securitymen stand guard at the entrance of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s house in Islamabad. Pakistani officials held “initial” talks before dawn on Thursday with representatives from two protesting opposition groups.

In this August 20, 2014 photo, securitymen stand guard at the entrance of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s house in Islamabad. Pakistani officials held “initial” talks before dawn on Thursday with representatives from two protesting opposition groups.   | Photo Credit: B.K. Bangash

Shah Mahmood Qureshi, a senior leader of Imran Khan’s party, said the opposition presented six demands, including one on Nawaz Sharif’s resignation.

Pakistani officials held “initial” talks before dawn on Thursday with representatives from two opposition groups whose supporters have been besieging the parliament for a second day demanding Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif resign over alleged election fraud, the government said.

The development was a sign of easing tensions in what has been a dramatic standoff in Islamabad, where twin protests by thousands of supporters of opposition politician Imran Khan and fiery cleric Tahirul Qadri have virtually shut down the city and raised fears of unrest.

Meanwhile, Mr. Sharif met President Mamnoon Hussain in Islamabad on Thursday and discussed the political crisis caused due to the protests.

The rallies started last week in Lahore and later moved to Islamabad.

The protestors, besides demanding Mr. Sharif’s resignation, claim vote fraud in last year’s parliamentary elections, tore down barricades late Tuesday and entered the Red Zone that houses key government buildings and diplomatic posts.

“We have held initial talks,” Cabinet Minister Ahsan Iqbal said on Thursday in televised comments as representative from Mr. Khan’s Tehrik-e-Insaf party stood beside him.

“These talks will continue because we cannot afford any political crisis... we hope we will find a solution to it soon,” said Mr. Iqbal, adding the two sides are trying to find a “win-win solution”.

Shah Mahmood Qureshi, a senior leader of Mr. Khan’s party, said the opposition presented six demands to the government, including one on Mr. Sharif’s resignation.

The other demands involve electoral reforms, setting up a caretaker government, removal of top election commission officials and accountability of those who rigged last year’s elections. It is unlikely Mr. Sharif would give ground on those demands, which the government considers illegal.

Thursday’s talks came after Pakistan’s Army chief, Gen. Rasheel Sharif, requested that Mr. Sharif’s government negotiate with protestors.

Tensions had also spiked on Wednesday, when Mr. Qadri asked his supporters to block the main gates of the parliament building and prevent lawmakers from going in or leaving.

Mr. Qadri also asked supporters to block Mr. Sharif from getting out from the parliament, where he was trapped, to his office building nearby. Mr. Sharif later managed to use a back exit to get to his office.

On Thursday, Mr. Sharif was back in parliament where lawmakers adopted a resolution rejecting the opposition’s “unconstitutional demands” and vowing to “uphold the supremacy of the constitution” of Pakistan and the “sovereignty of the parliament”.

“We will not allow the democratic setup to get derailed,” said Aftab Sherpao, a Sharif ally.

Tehmina Daultana, a lawmaker from Mr. Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N party, insisted Mr. Sharif should not resign.

Sharif meets President

During their meeting in Islamabad Mr. Sharif briefed President Hussain about the measures taken by the government to peacefully deal with the protests by Mr. Khan and Mr. Qadri.

The Prime Minister also apprised the President on the law and order situation, specifically related to the storming of the sensitive Red Zone by the protesters.

The Red Zone houses important government buildings including the Parliament House, Prime Minister House, President House, the Supreme Court besides the embassies.

Mr. Hussain told Mr. Sharif that being an elected Prime Minister, he should not resign but try and accommodate maximum demands of the protesters in order to defuse the tension, sources said.

The President asked the government to ensure the security of all key offices and the diplomatic enclave where foreign missions are located.

The office of the President is ceremonial in Pakistan but it becomes important in a political crisis due to his powers related to summoning of parliament and granting remission of punishment by the courts.

Mr. Hussain belongs to Mr. Sharif’s party and was handpicked by him for the top job.

Meanwhile, Mr. Sharif also telephoned former President and Pakistan People’s Party co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari and discussed prevailing political situation, Geo News reported.

Both the leaders exchanged views on Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s Azadi March and the Qadri-led Pakistan Awami Tehreek’s Inquilabad March, the report said quoting sources.

Mr. Sharif and Mr. Zardari agreed that they would not compromise on sanctity of the Constitution, it said.

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Printable version | Feb 26, 2020 12:49:29 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/south-asia/on-army-request-nawaz-sharif-government-opens-talks-with-pakistan-antigovernment-protestors/article6338480.ece

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