Pakistan’s firebrand cleric-cum-politician Maulana Fazlur 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 Imran Khan’s resignation has expired. The Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F) leader, who is leading a huge protest dubbed as ‘Azadi March’ comprising tens of thousands of his supporters in the national capital, said the movement to oust the prime minister “will continue to move ahead and will never be on the back foot”.
He convened an all-party conference to discuss the future course of action after Khan ignored the deadline. He asked protesters to continue their anti-government protest with “perseverance” and “courage”. “We are getting closer to achieving the objectives of the protest,” he said.
He said the opposition leaders will decide when the protest should be called off. 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 that the protest would continue until the prime minister steps down.
As the stalemate continued over Khan’s resignation, a negotiating team of the government led by Defence Minister Pervez Khattak met the Rehbar Committee of opposition parties to resolve the issues. “We have presented our demands before the government side and they will discuss it with party leaders and come back again at 3 pm tomorrow,” Rehbar committee head Akram Durrani told media after the meeting. Khattak said that “hopefully something good will come out of the ongoing efforts.”
Prime Minister Khan chaired a meeting of his allied parties and discussed the protest and the demands. All the parties unanimously adopted a resolution to depose trust in the leadership of Khan, according to a statement issued by his Office. Rehman’s call for the protest has been supported by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, Qaumi Watan Party, National Party and Awami National Party.
Meanwhile, the Lahore High Court has accepted for hearing a petition demanding action against JUI-F chief Rehman for “challenging the writ of government, delivering hate, provocative and seditious speeches against the state”, the report said.
Prime Minister Khan has rejected the protestors’ demand to resign and said that the demonstration was an effort to get a deal for the release of the PML-N and the PPP top leaders who are currently in jails due to corruption allegations. Khan has reiterated that he would never give a National Reconciliation Ordinance-like concession to leaders of the opposition parties facing corruption cases. Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan has said that “the prime minister is determined to meet the democratic demands of the opposition through dialogue process”.
The Imran Khan government has expressed desire to meet all demands of the opposition parties — except the premier’s resignation. Elaborate security arrangements have been put in place by the government to maintain law and order in the capital. The main roads have been completely or partially blocked by placing shipping containers and barbed wires. The Red Zone housing key official buildings and diplomatic enclave have already been secured by blocking the entry points.
About 700 security personnel were deployed to safeguard the Red Zone. Rehman has decided to avoid marching towards the sensitive Red Zone or surrounding Prime Minister’s House. The police and paramilitary force held security parades to deal with the marchers if they tried to invade the Red Zone. The protestors have settled in the sprawling ground near Peshawar Mor area here where different political parties have set up camps to house their workers.