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JUL-F decided to organise Seerat Conference at sit-in venue

07 November, 2019

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ISLAMABAD: Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman continued to stick to his guns, extending the anti-government sit-in at least till Sunday. Addressing the Azadi march participants after they braved heavy rain and a chilly night on Wednesday, the sixth day of the sit-in, the Maulana announced that his party had decided to organise a Seerat Conference to mark the birth anniversary of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) at the sit-in venue on 12th Rabi-ul-Awwal, falling on Sunday.

The announcement was made by the Maulana after presiding over separate meetings of the party’s Majlis-i-Shoora and working committee and his meeting with Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi.

Mr Elahi, who is also a member of the government’s negotiating team, met the Maulana in his personal capacity as no formal contact was made throughout the day between the government committee and the opposition’s Rehbar Committee. “Is it not our national duty to topple this government?” the Maulana asked the Azadi march participants, who replied in the affirmative.

It is interesting to note that Maulana Fazl has not set any new deadline for the acceptance of his demand after the expiry of the first 48-hour deadline on Sunday.

Sources in the opposition told Dawn that the members of other opposition parties had expressed concern over the JUI-F leadership’s decision to prolong the sit-in.

Leaders of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) are of the view that the JUI-F should not test the patience of such a large number of people and should find a way out to end the sit-in as early as possible.

The sources said the other opposition parties feared that prolonging of the sit-in might result in some tragedy as the participants could take any step out of frustration.

A member of the National Party (NP), which is presently supporting and participating in the sit-in, told Dawn that the Maulana had been advised to end the sit-in after giving a call for a nationwide protest which could be held at district and tehsil levels.

The sources said the opposition parties were of the view that prolonging the sit-in could damage their cause for which they had been struggling as after the rain and lowering of the temperature, there had been criticism on main and social media over the absence of the opposition leadership from the protest venue most of the time, particularly when the Azadi march participants were looking for shelters during the heavy rain with thunder and lightning.

A senior opposition member said that people were justified in saying that the JUI-F chief and other senior leaders had left their workers and supporters to live under the open sky whereas they themselves spent nights at their homes.

On the other hand, the JUI-F claimed that they had already made all the arrangements to prevent the protesters from rain as they knew about it before time.

Talking to reporters after the Shoora meeting, JUI-F secretary general Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri said they had refused to accept any assistance from the government. He was referring to a tweet by the prime minister earlier in the day in which he stated that he had directed the chairman of the Capital Development Authority (CDA) to visit the sit-in site after the rain to assess what relief and assistance could be provided to the sit-in participants with the onset of rain and changing weather conditions.

The talks between the government negotiating team and the opposition’s Rehbar Committee had ended in a deadlock on Tuesday after the opposition refused to budge on its main demand for the prime minister’s resignation. Head of the government’s negotiating team and Defence Minister Pervez Khattak had admitted that there had been a “deadlock” between them as both sides had stuck to their positions.

Hinting that the government is looking for various options to provide a face-saving to the JUI-F chief for announcing an end to the sit-in, Mr Khattak had stated that they were trying to find out a solution so that the honour of the opposition was not hurt and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government too felt content.

The opposition had formally presented four demands to the government that included immediate resignation of Prime Minister Imran Khan, fresh elections in the country, no interference of the army in the electoral process and supremacy of the Constitution.

The government side categorically stated that the prime minister’s resignation was non-negotiable. The government, however, offered the opposition that a judicial commission could be formed to investigate the charges of rigging in the elections. When the opposition rejected the commission’s offer, the government then offered either revival of the parliamentary committee on election rigging or even formation of a new committee.

Talking to reporters after his meeting with the JUI-F chief, Pervaiz Elahi claimed that things were going ahead in a “positive way”. He said various options were simultaneously being discussed to resolve the crisis. He said “patience and hard work” was required to end the crisis and they were doing the both.

When contacted, federal Minister for Education and Professional Training Shafqat Mehmood, who is also a member of the government team, said they had already made the offer to the opposition that the government was ready to hold the probe into the charges of rigging in the elections and now they were waiting for its reply.

Confirming that there had been no “formal contact” between the government and the opposition since Tuesday, the minister said they would make the contact when the opposition would come up with its response to the offer regarding the probe into the charges of election rigging.

Mr Mehmood reiterated the stance that the prime minister’s resignation was out of question. He said the main issue was not the prime minister’s resignation, but the rigging in the elections, adding that the opposition must sit with them to discuss the mechanism to hold the investigation. He said the government was confident and sure that the 2018 elections were held in a fair and transparent manner, but “hypothetically speaking”, if as a result of the investigations, it was found that the elections were not fair, then of course the government would go for fresh elections under a caretaker setup as per the Constitution.

The minister said that so far they were happy that the Azadi march participants had not violated the agreement which they had reached with the local administration before arriving in the capital. He said that though the government had no issue if the participants decided to stay at the venue for a longer time, it wanted to end the sit-in as early as possible keeping in mind that those sitting in the open were all Pakistanis.

Weather conditions forced the JUI-F chief to make a short speech of only 15 minutes on Wednesday evening where he presented a new demand to the government to withdraw reference against Justice Qazi Faez Isa of the Supreme Court.

The demand was presented in the presence of newly elected office-bearers of the Supreme Court Bar Association, who paid a visit to the Azadi march under newly elected president Syed Qalbe Hassan.

The Maulana said the government “will have to withdraw” the presidential reference filed against Justice Faez Isa. “The message sent out through the reference against Justice Isa was that a judge who gives a verdict based on justice which happens to be against the interests of the rulers will be sent home through references,” he added.

The Maulana also lauded the participants for braving the severe weather conditions of Islamabad by saying that they were rendering service to the country as well as Islam. “Unlike past sit-ins, we are not holding mujras [dance parties] every night, thanks to Almighty, there are respectable people sitting here,” he said, referring to the PTI sit-in of 2014, and ended the sentence that his “decency does not permit to repeat the scenes witnessed in Islamabad in the PTI sit-in”.

The Maulana had to end his speech abruptly also because of lightning and thunder signifying that a fresh wave of rainfall was coming.

The impact of overnight rainfall was clearly visible in the shape of potholes and water logging at various spots at the venue and many tents had fallen and submerged in mud and water. As a result, the participants shifted their camps to the main Kashmir Highway; some moved into security containers to protect against cold winds and rainfall.

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