Pakistan opposition groups agree to resume talks
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Pakistani opposition groups agreed Wednesday, September 3, to resume talks with the government about a political crisis that has rocked the country but a stalemate over demands for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's resignation dragged on.
The move came after days of clashes between police and club-wielding protesters demanding Sharif's resignation left three dead and hundreds injured, raising fears the powerful military may intervene.
The protests are led by cricket hero turned politician Imran Khan and populist Canadian cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri, who both claim that the 2013 general election which swept Sharif to power was heavily rigged.
Thousands of their followers have set up camp in Islamabad's sensitive "Red Zone" government district since August 15, but their calls to overthrow the administration have not mobilized mass support in the country of 180 million.
Some of the pressure on Sharif eased Tuesday after opposition parties in parliament backed him to continue, and after a senior member of Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party said his leader had acted on the army's direction – damaging the movement's credibility.
Parliament called a second special session on Wednesday which PTI members attended.
Senior PTI leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi said his party was willing to resume talks with the government in the presence of a cross-party team.
"We are ready to negotiate, ready to solve the matter, ready to break the silence. Imran Khan hasn't done all this for himself or Tehreek-e-Insaaf, he has done it for the better future of Pakistan," he said.
"We have decided to present our point of view in the opposition jirga (negotiation team)."
The cross-party team was also set to meet Qadri's Pakistan Awami Tehreek movement, a spokesman for the cleric said.
"Today we are meeting with the government team. The deadlock has been ended and we will hold talks with government team in presence of opposition committee," said spokesman Raheeq Abbasi.
Siraj-ul-Haq, chief of the religious Jamaat-e-Islami party who is leading the talks confirmed the move to Agence France-Presse.
Khan's party wants Sharif to step down for at least 30 days so that an impartial probe can be conducted into last year's election.
A source close to the talks told AFP: "All other matters have been resolved but the main issue is still on table, which is Nawaz Sharif's resignation.
"We are trying to sort out a middle way out of it," he added.
The military, which has ruled Pakistan for more than half its history, has issued a series of public advisories to the government in recent days on how to deal with the crisis, leading to criticism that it is interfering.
Analysts and government figures have said the army may be using the crisis to its advantage to try to assert its dominance over the Sharif government. – Rappler.com