Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday said that he was ready to accept all "valid" demands of the 'Azadi March' protesters, led by firebrand cleric-cum-politician Maulana Fazlur Rehman, except their call for his resignation. Khan reportedly made the remarks in a meeting with Defence Minister Pervez Khattak-led team tasked to negotiate with the opposition parties taking part in the massive march comprising thousands of protesters in Islamabad.
"The government is ready to accept all valid demands except the demand for resignation," The Express Tribune quoted Khan as saying.
Last night, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government sent a second delegation to firebrand cleric-cum-politician Rehman's residence to break the impasse in the wake of the Opposition's bid to oust Khan. The right-wing Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F) leader is leading the massive protest, which entered the fifth day on Tuesday. Dubbed as 'Azadi March', the protestors demand Khan's resignation, accusing him of "rigging" the 2018 general elections. The Opposition parties, including the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan People Party (PPP), have also thrown their weight behind the anti-government rally.
A delegation led by former prime minister Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain met the cleric on Monday night, hours after the government's negotiating team led by Defence Minister Khattak held talks with the Opposition's Rehbar Committee headed by JUI-F leader Akram Khan Durrani and discussed their demands, the report said. In its list of demands, the Rehbar Committee has sought the premier's resignation and fresh elections in the country without the supervision of the armed forces. The government, on the other hand, has demanded that the committee end the sit-in. Khattak and the Rahbar Committee will resume the talks on Tuesday.
Rehman on Monday asked his supporters to continue their anti-government protest with "perseverance" and "courage", as the 48-hour deadline set by him for Prime Minister Khan's resignation expired. He said the movement to oust the prime minister "will continue to move ahead and will never be on the back foot." Rehman on Friday gave Khan a two-day ultimatum to resign, saying the "Gorbachev of Pakistan" must step down without testing the patience of peaceful protestors. The 66-year-old cleric said the protest would continue until Khan steps down. Meanwhile, amid the continuing protest, PPP chief Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari has vowed to form the government at all costs.
Addressing a PPP workers' convention at Uch Sharif in Punjab province on Monday, Bilawal termed Khan as an "inefficient" prime minister and said his party "would form a national government at all costs", the Dawn newspaper reported. Criticising the federal budget, he said it has made the lives of the people "hell". Bilawal also criticised the government's policies, particularly the prime minister's announcement of construction of five million houses, the report stated. The PPP leader alleged the government's housing policy had rendered thousands of poor people homeless.
Extending his support to the farming community, Bilawal said the PTI government of Khan had inflicted economic damage on the farmers. He also criticised the government's media policy, saying the press was not free in Pakistan and the ruling party has silenced the people's voice. Referring to the 'Azadi' march, he said, "We have supported him (Rehman)."