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No more jalsas in Islamabad: Nisar Ali

12 April, 2016

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ISLAMABAD/LAHORE - Imran Khan said the government better let his party hold a jalsa (public meeting) in Islamabad, after Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali yesterday announced they will not allow any group or party to hold political gatherings in the capital.

The minister tried to make this decision appear general in nature by saying the government has also “put its foot down” on the holding of another Chehlum for Mumtaz Qadri, the killer of former Punjab governor Salman Taseer.

Addressing a press conference at the Punjab House, he said they will not allow any group or party to hold political gatherings in the capital’s Red Zone or the F-9 Park as such activities infringe upon fundamental rights of people besides inflicting harm on economy.

In the backdrop of pressure on PML-N government due to Panama Papers revelations and PTI chief Imran Khan’s deadline to the prime minister of April 24 – when his party is going to celebrate its founding day – the decision is understandably an effort to avert a situation the government had to face during PTI sit-in in 2014.

Imran has demanded resignation from the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif saying he has lost moral authority to lead the country after three of his children were found owning offshore companies. He has also demanded a transparent probe through a judicial commission headed by the Chief Justice of Pakistan into the Panama affair.

The recent massive leak of 11.5 million documents exposing secret offshore dealings and hidden offshore assets of around 140 political figures including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif‘s family has raised the political temperature in Pakistan.

Besides Imran, several leaders have demanded PM Nawaz to resign while the the prime minister has announced the establishment of a judicial commission under a retired Supreme Court judge to probe whether his family illegally owns offshore companies and property.

Although PTI chief has said that this time they would march on Raiwind – where the ruling family resides – but he has also said that in case his demands were not accepted, he would announce his future course of action on April 24 – something making the government feel uneasy as it fears the PTI could lunch a protest in the capital using its gathering there on that day.

“Why only Islamabad? The whole of Pakistan is available for political gatherings or jalsas,” remarked Nisar during the presser. He went on to say that if the government allows holding of gatherings at a particular place in Islamabad, “I will need guarantees that the jalsa will not move from that area.”

The interior minister said, “If they try to move from the jalsa area and action is taken by law enforcers to contain them and people die as a result, we will not be responsible for those casualties.” Showing possibility of meeting at some middle ground, he said, “The April 24 PTI jalsa should follow these rules and I am ready to talk to Imran Khan about these issues to chalk out a plan.”

Imran on the other hand, in an interview to a private TV channel, said the “jalsa is going to happen anyway; it’s better for the government to let it happen without causing trouble”.

PTI chief, who earlier in the day decided to postpone intra-party elections to focus on the ‘more national and pertinent’ issue of Panama Papers, said, “This is an opportunity for Pakistan to root out corruption, we will pursue this issue to the end.”

Speaking to media representatives here, he said his party would set up a committee to monitor progress on proposed commission and inquiry until April 24. After that, he said, the committee would lay out a plan for the Raiwind March.

“We want a forensic audit firm; I appeal to overseas Pakistanis to hire one on behalf of Pakistan to investigate Sharifs… this is an international situation; I call every stakeholder in Pakistan to join us in this.”

The PTI chairman went on to say that he might even call an all parties conference after April 24 rally.

Khan said they wanted to avoid unnecessary arguments and fights. “I am of course ready to speak to [Interior Minister] Chaudhry Nisar… we are not going to D-Chowk. Our party wanted celebrations there but on government request we accepted an alternative venue of F9 Park,” he added.

“This is internationally a huge opportunity, and a God given opportunity to Pakistan. The wave is global,” he said.

In a series of tweets on Monday, the PTI chairman asked whether Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will make his taxes and assets public as the British PM Cameron has put forward his record regarding taxes in front of the nation.

In his media talk, Imran said that PTI would hold its rally on April 24 to celebrate its founding day at the announced venue (F-9 Park). “We are going to hold a big show there. We neither want a chaos nor a scuffle with the government and because of the same reason, we have changed the venue from D-Chowk to F-9 Park, he said.

But Ch Nisar in his press conference said, “Neither there would a rally at D Chowk nor at F-9 park (the new proposed venue from PTI) as holding of rallies had been banned in the capital (as a matter of policy)… The write of the state has to be established.”

The interior minister said that some religious groups again had tried to observe Chehlum of Mumtaz Qadri at two places in Islamabad on April 10. “But with the timely intervention of local administration we did not allow this tamasha (drama) to be held.”

“This is neither the matter of ego nor the right of expression, it is the matter of the rights of residents of the capital, the security of its sensitive buildings and the honour of Pakistan,” he said and added that he was bringing this matter to the cabinet and would also consult all the political parties on the issue of banning political rallies in Islamabad.

He said the government will come out with a proposal to define areas in Islamabad where jalsas can be held. He said that paralysing the federal capital had cost the country’s treasury billions of rupees in 2014, referring to the four-month protest sit-in staged by PTI and Tahirul Qadri’s PAT.
“Businesses remained closed for months, the Chinese president’s visit was delayed and the government spent over a billion rupees on security measures (alone) taken during the time,” the minister said.

Inviting the opposition parties and his own party leadership, he asked the parliamentarians to present themselves for the accountability before the masses and proposed Ethics Committees of the National Assembly and Senate for this purpose.

“We should propose a self-accountability institution for the members of Senate and National Assembly,” he said, and added that these should be the defining moments as Imran Khan had mentioned. But he said that his proposal does not apply to Panama leaks and suggested to deal that matter separately.

Saying that media should continue with its coverage of Panama leaks, he advised all opposition parties to avoid leveling allegations or hurling threats against the government and not conduct a media trial if they wanted to solve the issue of offshore companies. “They should show their resolve to take the issue to its logical end. We should move forward together (on the issue),” he said.

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