The third round of talks between government negotiators and Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) last night failed to break the logjam. Khan's party demanded that Prime Minister Sharif step down for 30 days for an independent probe into the alleged rigging in last year's polls but this was outright rejected.
After the meeting, Khan's chief negotiator Shah Mehmood Qureshi told reporters that if proved innocent Sharif can return to power. Government representative Ahsan Iqbal said the demand for resignation of the Prime Minister was not acceptable. Thousands of supporters of PTI chief Khan and firebrand cleric Tahir-ul Qadri continued to camp outside the Parliament building here as their protests enetered the 11th day today.
Pakistani media said government has suspended mobilephone services in the Red Zone in and around the National Assembly citing security reasons. There are also reports of fresh efforts to block arterial roads leading to the protest site to prevent supporters of Khan and Qadri reaching there. Striking a defiant note, Khan said it was out of question to leave the capital without forcing Sharif to quit. "If it is proved after 30 days that everything was ok, you can return as the PM. But you are not willing to take us up on the offer.
That is because you are afraid that you will be found out," Khan was quoted as saying by Express Tribune. Using the cricketing terminology, he promised to contest till the "last ball". His comments came after former President Asif Ali Zardari met Sharif at the premier's residence in Lahore yesterday to discuss the crisis and pledged to "protect democracy."
Briefing journalists, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said Zardari had assured his full support to Sharif in resolving the crisis within the limits of the constitution and law. Khan and Qadri launched protests separately from Lahore on August 14 to dislodge the 15-month-old Sharif government and have been camping in Islamabad since last Saturday with thousands of their supporters.
Separately, Qadri is also holding talks with another government team. He also wants Nawaz Sharif government to go. The government enjoys a majority with ruling PML-N having 190 members in a House of 342.