Islamabad | Terming "impracticable" Imran Khan's demand that the National Assembly be dissolved by May 14 for a successful outcome of talks, Pakistan's ruling coalition has warned the former premier that his party will be the "ultimate loser" if the parleys failed as the polls can be delayed for a year.
Ahead of the third round of talks between the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) (PML-N)-led federal coalition and the PTI scheduled for Tuesday, the government told Khan that he cannot hold talks at gunpoint.
"We want to tell Imran Khan that he cannot hold talks at gunpoint. The first condition of talks is, there are no pre-conditions. Khan is so desperate that he wants his way or the highway,” PML-N Secretary General and Federal Minister for Development Ahsan Iqbal was quoted as saying by the Dawn newspaper.
The federal coalition termed Khan's ultimatum "impracticable" and asked him to be more flexible for the success of this dialogue between the government and the opposition, the report said on Monday.
"If the talks fail, the ultimate loser will be the PTI as there is a provision for delaying elections for a year under the Constitution. Imran Khan has warned of creating a law and order situation in the country (if polls are not held this July) and in such a scenario, the elections will be delayed for another year,” Iqbal said on Sunday.
The federal coalition parties sat with the PTI with an ‘open mind', but Khan continued to ask for the dissolution of assemblies (National, Sindh and Balochistan) by May 14, he said, adding that the demand is not acceptable to the federal coalition.
"The people of Sindh and Balochistan cannot be punished for the folly of Imran Khan who dissolved Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies to force elections…under the patronage of his ‘handlers' in the institutions,” the minister said, adding that Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party would have to agree on a code of conduct for polls, besides the same-day elections.
When asked if the elections would be held in Punjab in May in light of the Supreme Court's order in case of no breakthrough in parleys, the minister said: “We clearly see politics behind this apex court's verdict.” Defence Minister Khawaja Asif asked what will be the result of the negotiations with the PTI as they are setting conditions.
The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which pushed the PML-N to hold parleys with the PTI on elections, however, is still optimistic.
“I hope that dissolution of the assemblies by May 14 is a proposal and not a condition set by Khan. This suggestion is not viable. Who will present the budget if the National Assembly is dissolved in May?" asked senior PPP senior leader and PM's special assistant Qamar Zaman Kaira.
"It cannot be left to the caretaker setup to negotiate with the IMF and present the budget (for the upcoming financial year),” he said.
Kaira said despite such a suggestion, the PPP believed better sense would prevail and that these talks would not end up in failure.
Jamaat-i-Islami chief Sirajul Haq, who recently called on Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Imran Khan to push them for a consensus on polls, said: “We are hopeful for a breakthrough in the dialogue and that both the federal coalition and the PTI will not head for a deadlock.” The PTI has also shown optimism that its parleys with the government will succeed, the report said.
“PTI wants the success of talks with the government, but it has formulated a strategy in case of failure. It is not possible for the PTI to sit silently if the Constitution is considered as a piece of trash and the public as insects,” PTI senior leader Fawad Chaudhry said in a tweet.
Chaudhry also called on the people to prepare for a ‘movement'.
“The movement is starting tomorrow (Monday) with rallies in Lahore, Islamabad, and Peshawar, culminating in a historic long march,” he said.
The Supreme Court has asked the government and the PTI to sit together for talks. The apex court had already given May 14 as the date for elections in Punjab and the two sides should agree sooner on a new date to postpone the Punjab polls.
The main opposition party PTI is determined to press for polls in the provincial legislatures, but the government maintains its stance on simultaneous elections across the country.
The National Assembly will complete its five-year term in August this year.
According to the Constitution, elections shall be held within 90 days after the dissolution of the lower house. This means that the election must be held by mid-October. The last general election was held in July 2018.