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Nawaz Sharif's offer for talks fail to enthuse Imran Khan

Monday, 18 August 2014 - 6:38pm IST | Place: ISLAMABAD | Agency: PTI

Pakistan Government's efforts to hold talks to end the stand-off with Opposition leader Imran Khan and cleric Tahir-ul Qadri today failed to enthuse them as the anti-Sharif protests, demanding the Prime Minister's ouster entered the fifth day, creating havoc in the capital city.

The Government's offer to discuss all "constitutional" demands put forth by Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and Qadri's Pakistan Awami Tehreek did not receive a positive response from the two protesting groups, who have given a 48-hour deadline to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to resign.

While Khan's representatives did not respond to the Government's late night calls for formation of two committees, consisting of members from all major political parties, to hold talks, a representative of Qadri said the cleric rejected the proposal outright.

The decision to hold talks with the protest leaders came hours after Khan launched a civil disobedience movement to oust Sharif over alleged vote-rigging in the last general elections in 2013 that brought him to power.

The government is expected to announce the composition of two committees later today to hold separate talks with PTI and PAT leadership to listen to their demands and convince them to call off their sit-ins, that have paralysed life in central Islamabad.

Khan yesterday declared a "civil disobedience movement" against the Sharif government, saying the country's future is bleak under the rule of businessmen.
"I have called for the civil disobedience movement for you, not for myself. We will not pay taxes, electricity or gas bills," Khan had told his supporters while giving a speech which he described as the most important of his political career.

The PTI chief has appealed to the people of Pakistan to stop paying utility bills and taxes to the current government.

Khan asserted that under the rule of "these businessmen who only want to make money for themselves, Pakistan's future is bleak." His remarks were directed at Sharif, one of the country's wealthiest person and the owner of Ittefaq Group.

Khan and Qadri had separately launched protests from eastern city of Lahore on Thursday, Pakistan's Independence Day, to dislodge the 15-month old Sharif Government and have been camping in the capital since Saturday with thousands of their supporters.

In the polls last year, Sharif's PML-N had won 190 out of 342 seats. Khan's PTI got 34 seats, the third largest bloc in the legislature. Khan has claimed that his party should have won many more seats but for the vote-rigging by Sharif's PML-N.

The political instability comes at a time when Pakistan is waging a war against militants - particularly in the restive tribal regions along its border with Afghanistan.

The anti-government protests appear to lose steam today as Khan's 'Azadi March' and Qadri's 'Revolution March' were unable to muster the numbers the two leaders had hoped for.

Opposition parties on Monday also distanced themselves from Khan's call for mass civil disobedience to topple the government.

Former president Asif Ali Zardari, co-chairman of the Pakistan People's Party, the largest opposition party, said Khan's willingness to use "unconstitutional means" to pursue his goals threatened democracy. "Democracy and nation will not be served by calls for civil disobedience nor by a stubborn refusal by any side to engage in a meaningful dialogue on political issues," Zardari said in a statement.

Khan's civil disobedience movement also drew flak from the business community and analysts. "It is untimely and shows frustration of the protestors. It will also hurt the business community of the country," political analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi said.

Liaquat Baloch, general secretary of Right-wing Jamaat-i-Islami, also rejected it, saying it will not work in the country.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court rejected the government's plea seeking to restrain protesters from moving toward the the capital's 'Red Zone' area, where the Parliament, the President and the Prime Minister's residences and embassies are located.

"That is something for the government to handle," Chief Justice Nasirul Mulk said, while rejecting the attorney general for Pakistan's (AGP) plea to pass an order stopping the protesters from entering the high-security area.

Qadri is expected to announce his strategy before the expiry of the 48-hour deadline given for the ouster of Sharif.

Khan is also holding talks with party leaders at his residence in Bani Gala suburbs of Islamabad and is expected to return to protestors by the evening and address them.

The Army which has already been handed over the security of capital for three months, has a history of capturing power from democratically elected governments.

In its 67-year history, Pakistan has witnessed three coups, including one against Sharif in 1999 by the then army chief General Parvez Musharraf. ‚Äč

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