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Government Rejects Azadi March Calls for P.M. Khan’s Resignation

by Newsweek Pakistan

File photo of Pervez Khattak with Imran Khan. Photograph by Abid Nawaz

Members of the government’s negotiating team say they are willing to hold dialogue but will not cave to ‘blackmail’

Members of a government committee tasked with negotiating an end to the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUIF)’s ‘Azadi March’ on Saturday said they would not even discuss the demand for P.M. Imran Khan’s resignation.

“No one should even think about it,” Defense Minister Pervez Khattak told a press conference after meeting with the P.M. and the PTI core committee. A united opposition, led by the JUIF’s Maulana Fazlur Rehman, had on Friday demanded Khan resign within two days or prepare for “consequences.”

Referring to the demand, Khattak said it would set a bad precedent to just accept whatever they want. “We cannot just accept the demands of a mob of 20,000-30,000 people. If we do that, then in the future anyone can come and similarly blackmail the government,” he said. The PTI had earlier made similar demands—with similar sized crowds—while it was in opposition. Most notably, Imran Khan had led a 126-day dharna in Islamabad’s D-Chowk, paralyzing the federal capital and costing the country’s economy an estimated Rs. 2,969 billion.

Khattak said the government was willing to talk with the opposition even now, but they would need to voice demands that were within the ambit of the Constitution. He also said that the ‘Azadi March’ protesters had refused to abide by their agreement with the government, adding that if they did not wish to follow it, they should have never agreed to it and staged their protest regardless.

The agreement Khattak referred to states that the government would not try to obstruct the JUIF’s march to the federal capital. Additionally, the protesters would hold a rally at a ground near Islamabad’s H-9 sector, where they are currently camped, and would not enter the Red Zone high-security area.

Khattak claimed the protest was poorly timed and could prove dangerous to Pakistan. “This [protest] could help India because it has driven the issue of Kashmir to the background,” he said, adding if anything was damaged, or anyone harmed, by the ‘Azadi March,’ then the responsibility for it would fall on the opposition and not the government, as per the same agreement.

The defense minister took pointed notice of the opposition’s comments about ‘institutions,’ saying the government and the negotiators had been “saddened” by the speeches given by opposition leaders on Friday. He said they were criticizing state institutions, which belong to the entire nation rather than just the government. “Don’t try to create enmities within the country,” he warned. The Army, he said, was completely neutral and had not helped this government assume power.

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