Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Tuesday ‘rejected’ the opposition’s deadline to the government to pack its bags, accusing the 11-party opposition alliance of ‘prioritising their personal agenda over the national agenda’. Addressing a press conference in Islamabad two days after the opposition alliance, also known as the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), held its sixth power show in Lahore, Qureshi said he did not want to keep the PDM leadership in any sort of anticipation.
‘We reject your ultimatum. You say the prime minister should resign by Jan 31. We are categorically saying the prime minister of Pakistan will not step down. ‘You say assemblies should be dissolved. The prime minister has said and I am repeating [his words], assemblies will not be dissolved. The deadline stands rejected,’ he said. However, Qureshi said that the decision did not indicate the government’s ‘stubbornness’, and hinted at the possibility of a dialogue. ‘We are political people and are open-minded’.
A day earlier, the PDM leadership had demanded the PTI-led government quit by January 31 or face an intensified opposition movement, including a long march to the capital. The demand was made by PDM president Maulana Fazlur Rehman while speaking to the media in Lahore alongside PML-N’s Maryam Nawaz, PPP chief Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and other opposition leaders.
As part of the anti-government movement, Rehman said lawmakers from PDM member parties in the national and provincial assemblies will hand in their resignations to their party leaders by December 31. Fazlur Rehman had said that if the government refused to quit by Jan 31, a meeting of the PDM’s leadership on February 1 will announce a long march towards Islamabad, the date of which will also be decided during the meeting.
During today’s press conference, Qureshi claimed there was no consensus in the PDM over the matter of resignations. He also claimed that there were two factions in the PML-N — one which agreed with PML-N President and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif and the other which agreed with PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz. ‘If you have consensus on resignations and are serious, then on the 31st, your resignations should reach the speaker and not the leadership of your parties. Submitting resignations to leadership is just for show.’
Qureshi said that there was ‘no unity’ in the PDM over the matter of the proposed long march either. ‘Why am I saying this? Because they said [in their presser] that a meeting of the PDM will be called on Feb 1 and then the decision will be taken after discussion and a date will be given.’ The minister termed the PDM’s Dec 13 rally in Lahore a ‘failure’, saying the PDM had been unable to mobilise the masses. If only the citizens of Lahore had been mobilised, the alliance would not have had to face disappointment, he said.
He said the lack of people at the rally showed the public’s ‘detachment’ and the performance of the stock market the next day proved the rally had failed. ‘If there was any power in their rally, the stock market would be crashing, not going up,’ he added. Instead of analysing why the public was detached from the PDM, the alliance’s leadership was pinning the blame on the media, he said, adding that ‘if it reports [news] that favours you, then it is free and if it doesn’t then it is under the pressure of institutions.