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‘We Will Not Settle’

by Newsweek Pakistan

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JUIF chief says Azadi March will not end without fresh elections, as impasse between opposition and government continues

Maulana Fazlur Rehman, whose Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUIF) has been staging a sit-in in the federal capital for nearly a week, told his supporters on Tuesday that the protesters will not accept anything less than fresh elections.

“We are committed to our demand that this government came into power through rigged elections,” he told the tens of thousands camped out in Islamabad for a sixth day. “We will not accept anything other than re-elections [to end the sit-in].”

Elaborating on the key demand of the four points forwarded by the opposition to the government, Rehman said a parliamentary committee had been formed to probe alleged rigging in the 2018 polls but it had yet to provide any results a year into the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s rule. “The probe committee headed by [Defense Minister] Pervez Khattak did even not hold a single meeting in the past year,” he said, rejecting a proposal by the government to form a commission to prove the alleged rigging.

He also criticized the PTI’s about-face in having no issues with ‘toppling’ a government when they staged their dharna against Nawaz Sharif in 2014 but were all of a sudden worried about setting a “bad precedent.”

During his speech, a daily occurrence since the dharna started, Rehman lashed out at the government’s economic policies, saying no other government had ever passed three budgets in a single year. “Economy is failing,” he said. “If we give more time to this government, it [economy] will sink further.”

The JUIF chief also slammed the ‘impunity’ with which ‘institutions’ were “picking up people,” asking how any institution could detain anyone on mere suspicions. He told his supporters there were people who had gone missing for 12-15 years, leaving behind families who have no idea if their relatives are even alive or dead. “If they are criminals, why are they not presented before court?”

In the same vein, Rehman criticized the high-handed tactics of the National Accountability Bureau, saying the anti-corruption watchdog’s so-called accountability had destroyed a functional bureaucracy. “Everyone is too afraid of being dragged into court if they so much as approve a project,” he said.

Earlier, a government negotiating committee led by the defense minister and an opposition team led by JUIF’s Akram Khan Durrani failed in achieving any breakthrough to end the Azadi March dharna.

Addressing a press conference, Durrani said all nine opposition parties were united and would not budge on their demands. On Monday, they had issued four demands: the resignation of P.M. Khan; fresh elections; no military oversight of the polls to prevent allegations of rigging; and the implementation of the Constitution and rule of law in letter and spirit. Khattak said he still believed a “middle ground” could be found, adding that both committees would return to their leaderships to discuss the matter further. “We are trying to find a solution where the opposition’s dignity remains intact while the government also preserves its position,” he added.

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