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Heated exchanges in Pak Parliament, protesters agree to talks

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ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Parliament on Wednesday became the new battleground in the ongoing political turmoil with pro-government leaders and lawmakers of Imran Khan’s party accusing each other of undermining democracy, even as protesters returned to the negotiating table.
The political impasse in Pakistan continued unabated with a largely united Parliament on one side, and the Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-I-Insaf (PTI) and cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) on the other.
A joint session of Parliament saw all parties except PTI put aside their differences to stand against what they termed were attempts to derail the democratic process in the country prone to coups.
In a significant development, Khan and Qadri agreed to talk to a committee of opposition politicians seeking to mediate between the embattled Nawaz Sharif-led government and the protesters.
A delegation of opposition parties met Khan and Qadri overnight to end the impasse.
The lawmakers led by Sirajul Haq, Chief of right wing Jamaat-i-Islami, first met Khan and then Qadri and offered them guarantee of Parliament for implementation of any deal reached to end the crisis that has triggered violence.
“PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf) accepted our request (of talks) with open heart and we are thankful to them,” Haq was quoted by Dawn as saying after the meeting.
He said the journey of dialogue process would continue until a logical conclusion was reached.
Heated exchanges between opposing camps that have regularly figured in the political discourse during the three-week impasse on Wednesday moved inside the Parliament.
Lawmakers from the PTI, who had quit but their resignations have not been accepted by the Speaker, attended the emergency joint session of the Parliament convened to support the Premier and discuss the crisis.
Impassioned speeches continued to be made in the Parliament with senior PTI leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi leading the party’s reply to countless accusations made by pro-government leaders.
“We are protesting to save the Parliament, not to destroy it. PTI never was and never will be part of a grand plan that will undermine democracy,” Qureshi said.
“We are protesting on the directions of the Pakistani nation. I want to be on record; my party opposes the invoking of Article 245,” he said in reference to the ruling PML-N’s deployment of army in Islamabad.
Sharif was present in the Parliament earlier in the day but left the House as Qureshi started his speech.
“If you want the Prime Minister’s resignation, forget about it…you won’t get it and no Prime Minister will tender his resignation in this manner,” Qaumi Watan Party’s Aftab Khan Sherpao said.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court on Wednesday directed leaders of political parties to submit their suggestions by tomorrow to end the ongoing political stalemate during the hearing of a plea against sit-ins and extra-constitutional steps in Islamabad by the PTI and PAT.
Earlier, the Apex Court had issued notices to all parliamentary parties as requested by Zulfiqar Naqvi who had petitioned that all parties be summoned so that the deadlock can be resolved.
Even as the focus shifted to the joint session in the Parliament, Qadri pledged not to move from the protest site until Prime Minister Sharif and his brother Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif resign.
Qadri, addressing supporters, said “If my enemy kills me…every drop of my blood will cry Haq (truth).”
“I came to take revenge for the killing of our martyrs. I have come in support of Pakistan’s poor. I will sit here for an entire year waiting for their (Sharif brothers) resignations if I have to,” the PAT chief said.
Outside the Parliament, Pakistan Peoples Party leader Rehman Malik told reporters that, “The country will soon hear good news.”
“Jirgas have power of principles and ethics, using that power of ethics we went to the PTI and PAT…We don’t have ministerial powers, we as a group of opposition parties, went and played an independent role as an arbitrator,” Malik said.
“All the talks that are going on are in the Prime Minister’s knowledge and the minister who briefed us. On Wednesday , hopefully we will meet PTI and PAT members again. We want things to improve because Islamabad is in tatters and the protesters are all over the place,” he said.
In the last four days, anti-government protests have morphed the high-security Red Zone from a concert ground to a bloody battlefield, with three people killed and over 550 injured.
A total of nine cases have been registered against leaders and activists of PTI and PAT since Monday.
The charges include sedition, murder attempt and terrorism. More than 200 activists have already been arrested in Islamabad since Sunday night, media reports said.
Khan and Qadri have been booked under the anti-terrorist act for attempting to attack the Parliament.
Khan wants the PML-N government’s ouster over alleged rigging in last year’s poll which his party lost, while Qadri wants to bring a revolution in the country. Both the leaders are agitating since 14th August.

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