Pakistan’s fiery cleric Tahir-ul Qadri on Thursday announced that an agreement has been struck with the government to end his four-day protests that had increased pressure on the country’s fragile coalition government.
After five hours of talks with a 10-member team of federal ministers and leaders of parties in the Pakistan People’s Party-led government, Qadri told his supporters that the two sides had finalised an “Islamabad Long March Declaration”.
Qadri said the document would be read out at the site of the protest on Jinnah Avenue, the main boulevard of Islamabad, after it was signed by PM Raja Pervez Ashraf.
Qadri’s supporters began celebrating and shouting slogans after he had spoken. The talks were held inside Qadri’s bulletproof container. Footage on television showed Qadri and the government leaders, visible through the large windows of the container, engaged in hectic consultations.
Thousands of supporters continued to occupy Islamabad’s main boulevard in front of parliament house despite the punishing weather which included lashing rains in the afternoon. The government’s negotiating team had asked for two extensions in the deadlines issued by the cleric.
Supporters of Qadri said that they would continue their sit-in till their demands are met. Qadri has asked for a postponement of elections, a change in the chief election commisioner, due vetting process for contestants to the forthcoming elections and announcement of a caretaker government set-up.
Information minister Qamar Zaman Kaira, who is part of the negotiating team, had said that many of the demands made by Qadri could not be entertained but the negotiations were being conducted because he was using his supporters to pressure the government.
There are many women and children amongst the supporters camped in the open air Blue Area of Islamabad. The government says that it fears for their safety. But at the same time, the supporters of Qadri say that they will not move until there is an outcome to their protest.
It is expected that the temperature in Islamabad will drop to 4°C on Thursday night.