Fazulur Rehman

Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman came out all guns blazing against Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday, saying there is no need for talks with the government’s negotiating team if the demand of the prime minister’s resignation is off the table.

A fiery address by Fazlur Rehman to the participants of the ‘Azadi March’ in the federal capital appeared to pour cold water on the optimism about a deal with the JUI-F chief, which surfaced after PML-Q leader Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi met Fazlur Rehman at his residence.

“I have already said that we are optimistic,” Pervaiz Elahi, also a member of the government’s negotiating team, told reporters after meeting Fazlur Rehman.

“We will give you the good news, when all is agreed. There are many proposals under consideration,” he added.

But later, Fazlur Rehman adopted a different tone, telling the government not to “bother with negotiations” if the prime minister’s resignation demand was off the table. “Then there is no need to come to us. Next time when you come, bring the resignation of the prime minister with you.”

Fazlur Rehman fired a broadside at the prime minister and the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), saying that the prime minister’s amnesty scheme earlier this year was meant for his sister Aleema Khan. He alleged that Imran’s sister owned assets worth billions of rupees in Dubai.

He charged that Prime Minister Imran hid the money laundering committed by his sister through the amnesty scheme and now he speaks of an NRO – the Musharraf-era National Reconciliation Ordinance. “The opposition leaders do not want NRO from Imran Khan, instead they will not give him one,” he said.

“When the entire party is a gang of robbers, why it is being allowed to continue,” he asked. He then directly addressed the prime minister, saying: “You are at a dead end now. Now you must decide whether you want to continue to remain there or come out and give back the people their right.”

Fazlur Rehman also came down hard on the “delaying tactics” adopted by the PTI in the foreign funding case, which was pending with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for the past five years. “Why has the Election Commission not been able to decide the matter?” he asked.

“Your own [PTI’s] senior leadership has gone to the commission and said that funding came from India, Europe and many other places. You submitted 60 petitions in the court to delay the case. Though every petition of the government has been rejected.”

The JUI-F chief repeated the allegations that the 2018 general election was “rigged to favour” the PTI. “When the whole nation is witness to this theft, you don’t need any investigation. Answer to that theft is the resignation [of the prime minister],” he added.

He praised the participants of the march, saying that they had removed misconceptions about the religious segment. “Our workers have displayed discipline, and respected the rule of law, which are acknowledged by the western media as well,” he added.

He accused the government of placing containers in the capital, which caused losses of millions of rupees. “No citizen is disturbed by this Azadi March,” he said. “They [government] must be held accountable for this.”

Fazl welcomed the recent statement of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor that the army was an impartial institution. “I want to say this to state institutions that consider them [JUI-F workers] your own people and they will always be with you,” he said.

Thousands of protesters have converged on the federal capital under the banner of the ‘Azadi March’, seeking the removal of Prime Minister Imran. The march set off from Sindh on October 27, left Lahore on October 30 and reached Islamabad on October 31.

On Friday, the opposition gave the prime minister a 48-hour ultimatum to resign. The deadline was later extended after the JUI-F chief said the opposition’s Rahbar Committee would decide after talks with the government’s negotiating committee.

Before Fazl’s address on Thursday, the Rahbar Committee of the joint opposition decided to continue putting pressure on the government, announcing that the ‘Azadi March’ would continue despite an inclement weather in Islamabad.

Rahbar Committee convener Akram Durrani told reporters that the decision to continue ‘Azadi March’ sit-in was unanimous. “The next plan will be announced after the 12th of Rabiul Awwal Sunday,” he said. The (JUI-F) workers are determined to stay here for months.”

Durrani’s press conference came after Elahi’s meeting with Fazlur Rehman. Talking to the reporters after the talks, the Punjab Assembly speaker said that their efforts for a political solution would continue.

When prodded if there was agreement on any points, he said that he would not give any good news in bits and pieces.

“We will give you the good news when all the issues are settled. We are optimistic. Things are moving in the right direction,” he added

To a question about the demand for the prime minister’s resignation, Fazlur Rehman said, “We will give you good news soon.”

When asked if the JUI-F chief would agree to holding investigation into the rigging allegations, he said: “Whatever Maulana agrees to, will be done.”

Meanwhile, Defence Minister Pervez Khattak said that Elahi was holding talks with the opposition, however, the final decision would be taken by the government’s negotiating committee.

Khattak, who heads the government’s committee, said that they had established contacts with other opposition leaders. “Our committee members are in contact with Shehbaz Sharif [President of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N)] and others,” he said.

“Talks had not been snapped,” he told reporters outside the Parliament House. “There is a deadlock only on the issues of the prime minister’s resignation and investigation into the rigging allegations.

“It seems that Maulana Fazlur Rehman is here until 12th Rabiul Awwal. We are in contact with the heads of other parties and there will be a positive outcome of the meetings.”

He demanded of the opposition to provide proofs of rigging in the 2018 elections. “You cannot say anything without proof.”

The defence minister said if the prime minister resigned on opposition’s demand it would set a bad precedent as everyone tomorrow would stand up, asking the prime minister to resign. However, he added that the opposition might bring no-confidence motion against Imran and “we are ready for that”.