Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Tuesday “rejected” the opposition’s deadline to the government to pack its bags, accusing the 11-party opposition alliance of “prioritising their personal agenda over the national agenda”.
Addressing a press conference in Islamabad two days after the opposition alliance, also known as the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), held its sixth power show in Lahore, Qureshi said he did not want to keep the PDM leadership in any sort of anticipation.
“We reject your ultimatum. You say the prime minister should resign by Jan 31. We are categorically saying the prime minister of Pakistan will not step down.
“You say assemblies should be dissolved. The prime minister has said and I am repeating [his words], assemblies will not be dissolved. The deadline stands rejected,” he said.ARTICLE CONTINUES AFTER AD
However, Qureshi said that the decision did not indicate the government’s “stubbornness”, and hinted at the possibility of a dialogue. “We are political people and are open-minded”.
A day earlier, the PDM leadership had demanded the PTI-led government quit by January 31 or face an intensified opposition movement, including a long march to the capital.
The demand was made by PDM president Maulana Fazlur Rehman while speaking to the media in Lahore alongside PML-N’s Maryam Nawaz, PPP chief Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and other opposition leaders.
As part of the anti-government movement, Rehman said lawmakers from PDM member parties in the national and provincial assemblies will hand in their resignations to their party leaders by December 31.
Fazlur Rehman had said that if the government refused to quit by Jan 31, a meeting of the PDM’s leadership on February 1 will announce a long march towards Islamabad, the date of which will also be decided during the meeting.
During today’s press conference, Qureshi claimed there was no consensus in the PDM over the matter of resignations. He also claimed that there were two factions in the PML-N — one which agreed with PML-N President and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif and the other which agreed with PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz.
“If you have consensus on resignations and are serious, then on the 31st, your resignations should reach the speaker and not the leadership of your parties. Submitting resignations to leadership is just for show.”
Qureshi said that there was “no unity” in the PDM over the matter of the proposed long march either.
“Why am I saying this? Because they said [in their presser] that a meeting of the PDM will be called on Feb 1 and then the decision will be taken after discussion and a date will be given.”
PDM rally a ‘failure’
The minister termed the PDM’s Dec 13 rally in Lahore a “failure”, saying the PDM had been unable to mobilise the masses. If only the citizens of Lahore had been mobilised, the alliance would not have had to face disappointment, he said.
He said the lack of people at the rally showed the public’s “detachment” and the performance of the stock market the next day proved the rally had failed. “If there was any power in their rally, the stock market would be crashing, not going up,” he added.
Instead of analysing why the public was detached from the PDM, the alliance’s leadership was pinning the blame on the media, he said, adding that “if it reports [news] that favours you, then it is free and if it doesn’t then it is under the pressure of institutions.
“These are double standards,” he said.
‘Undemocratic, unconstitutional’ demands
Qureshi said Prime Minister Imran Khan had the “mandate of the people” and that he received 17 million votes in the 2018 elections.
“[The PDM] is saying he should [resign] because the elections were not transparent.
“You say we are out for democratic values and supremacy of the Constitution — as a democratic movement, how can you make an undemocratic and unconstitutional demand? He has a mandate, should he resign just because it was your wish?” he questioned.
“In 2008, the PPP was elected and it completed its five-year term. In 2013, the PML-N was elected and it completed its five-year term. Then in the 2018 elections, PTI was elected, why should it not complete its term?
“Your demand for fresh elections is undemocratic, unconstitutional, and immoral. How would we achieve political stability [if this was allowed to happen]?”
Qureshi also said that the PDM’s conditions for dialogue were “unacceptable to me, my party and my government”.
“They say in their presser that dialogue can be held but conditional to dissolving assemblies and holding fresh elections. Why would anyone talk to you if you want conditional talks? This is not acceptable to us. Ultimatums and threats will not work,” Qureshi said.
Responding to Bilawal’s press conference earlier in which he said that the time for talks had passed, Qureshi took a jibe at what he termed was the PPP chairperson’s “inexperience”.
“Bilawal says time for talks is over. I say beta (son) this is inexperience. You need time to learn. In politics talks happen, doors cannot be closed and if you want to learn, then learn from your grandfather.
“There is a Constitution and a system and we can talk within limits. You say the time for talks is over, this is inexperience.”
Qureshi said the PDM would be “short-lived” because it was “unnatural”, claiming that “Maryam and Bilawal will not be able to tolerate each other”.
“On one hand Maryam is making efforts to replace Shehbaz. On the other hand, Bilawal is trying to show workers that he makes decisions and not [Asif Ali] Zardari. They will not be able to tolerate each other.”
He said that the government had previously invited the opposition for a dialogue on legislation related to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) which he said was necessary to get Pakistan out of the watchdog’s grey list.
“If they had any [feeling for] national security, they would have come forward but instead they linked it to the NAB (National Accountability Bureau) law. They said progress on FATF [legislation] can only happen when you show flexibility in our cases.
“I told them you may have reservations on NAB law but don’t make [dialogue] conditional. [Opposition] should say ‘let’s work on FATF’ and then talk about NAB laws, but they said we will only move forward after these 44 amendments which would have been equivalent to wrapping up the institution,” he added.