Islamabad: Pakistan’s political crisis deepened on Thursday as dialogue between protesters headed by Imran Khan and cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri and the government broke down. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, while willing to negotiate, has ruled out the possibility of him stepping down. Besides, eleven out of the twelve parliamentary parties have declared their support for him. The current agitation is also viewed by many as one being orchestrated by the ‘old guard’ that includes the Army and, according to one ‘defector’ from Imran’s party, even the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
The fragile dialogue between the government and protesters that had on Wednesday raised hopes of resolution of the political crisis made no headway on Friday as Pakiatan Awami Tehreek (PAT) chief Tahir-ul-Qadri also refused to meet the government’s negotiating team.
After briefly relenting late last night, opposition leader and chief of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Khan withdrew from talks and declared that he would continue the protest “till the end”.
Prime Minister Sharif, during a meeting with senior journalists, said if the government accepts the demands of and PAT the country will face numerous challenges, Express News reported.
“Out of 12 political parties in the Parliament, 11 are supporting the government,” Sharif said.
“We respect people’s mandate. We can’t even imagine using force against dharnas. We are ready to hold talks,” he said.
In a significant development, the Pakistan supreme court on Thursday rejected the government’s plea for an order for the eviction of protesters besieging the Parliament, saying it is an administrative matter and should be dealt with in accordance with the law.
Emboldened by the court’s stand, Khan stepped up pressure on the Sharif-led government, announcing that he would not talk to the government until the Prime Minister resigns and called for a nationwide protest. A visibly charged Khan this afternoon called on his supporters to expand the civil disobedience movement into all the provinces.
“It is our democratic right to protest … we are not breaking any laws. I request the supreme court to have these containers removed so that life can return to normal,” said Khan, addressing his supporters camped outside the parliament. “The talks with the government are over. How can these talks proceed when we first want resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif?” Khan said.
Khan asked his supporters from all provinces to converge in Islamabad. He vowed to fight “until the last ball”.
Thursday was the eighth day of the Khan-led movement against Sharif, a campaign that has partially paralysed life in the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi as containers and police personnel guard state buildings against protesters.
Although, Khan is unflinching in his demand for the premier’s resignation, observers said the party chairman has “no option left” as his earlier calls for a civil disobedience movement and the mass resignation of lawmakers from assemblies have yielded no results.