Pakistan's religious parties have started to bargain with both the government and Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party in a bid to extract concessions ahead of a dharna PTI plans to hold in Islamabad from November 2.
The move comes after another mainstream party, the PML-Q announced its support for Imran Khan's November protest and the ruling party announced it would start contacting other parties to thwart the PTI rally.
On Saturday, prime minister Nawaz Sharif entrusted his key cabinet ministers with the task of talking to the main political parties in the country to dissuade them from being part of Imran Khan's dharna. "The government is now under pressure and it is trying to rally other parties like it did in the past. This time however it is not getting support from many quarters and this is why the prime minister is panicking," said analyst Ghazi Salahuddin.
Interior minister Chaudhry Nisar on Friday met the chiefs of two banned groups, including one declared a terrorist organisation by the US, to dissuade them from joining Khan's protest. Sources said Nisar assured the chiefs of a softer approach and release of their supporters arrested earlier under the National Action Plan.
Local media reported that discussions are underway between the government and the members of the Difah-e-Pakistan (Defence of Pakistan) Council (DPC), which comprises religious parties, over concessions that the government can give them if they do not support the protest.
Earlier, Maulana Samiul Haq of the Jamaiat-Ulema Islam (JUI-S) had announced that the council would also join the protest, creating panic in the government. He said the government was targeting religious seminaries in the country.
Haq, along with a delegation, met Nisar on Friday. His delegation included Maulana Muhammad Ahmad Ludhianvi of the banned Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamat (ASWJ) and Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil of the banned Harkat-ul Mujahideen (HuM).
At the same time, Maualana Fazlur Rehman of the JUI-F party announced he would distance himself from the PTI protest.
DPC members demanded the government stop operations against madrassas and militant outfits and release their supporters, many of who are currently behind bars.
The delegation leaders were angry as the government had announced it would cancel the national identity cards of those listed in the Fourth Schedule, which makes it impossible to carry out any business activity in the country or get a passport.
The meeting took place a day after a Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz lawmaker indirectly accused Maulana Samiul Haq of planning to send students of his seminary to help the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf in Islamabad’s lockdown, in return for a grant received from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government. The PML- Q also announced it would support the Imran Khan rally on November 2. A meeting of PML-Q and PTI leaders in Lahore led to this declaration.
Observers say the Sharif government is now under intense pressure to reverse some of its policies it announced to deal with some of the religious organisations involved in militant activity.