ISLAMABAD - Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif intensified efforts to keep the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) lawmakers in the parliament and is ready to show flexibility to seal a deal, official sources said yesterday.

His aides reached out to the annoyed party’s leaders as lawmakers in the National Assembly and Senate urged government not to accept the mass resignation of MQM legislators.

The prime minister has been shaken by the resignation on Wednesday of 24 MQM members of the National Assembly, eight senators and 51 Sindh Assembly members in protest against alleged victimisation of its party workers.

Last night a senior aide told The Nation the premier is willing to make concessions to stop the resignations and resulting political disruption.

Analysts believe the PM is anxious to avoid by-elections in so many constituencies, mostly in Karachi, where an operation against the outlaws is being carried out. The acceptance of resignations could also trigger further violence in the urban Sindh, the MQM’s stronghold.

“The PM has spoken to his aides and the leaders of various political parties. He is ready to be flexible to avoid a political standoff. Any action on their resignations has been halted,” a senior federal minister, who attended a consultative meeting chaired by the premier here, told The Nation.

Shortly after Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief Fazlur Rehman was asked by the prime minister to open talks with the MQM, the Altaf Hussain-led party sent a list of five demands to reconsider their decision.

MQM legislator Ali Raza Abidi told The Nation his party has demanded a monitoring committee to ensure that no injustices are committed in the ongoing Karachi operation.

The party insisted that Rangers-led operation should be unbiased and those arrested should be immediately presented in the courts.

“The MQM has demanded the government take immediate measures for recovery of missing party workers. We are not demanding to call off the operation, we want it to be fair and not designed against the MQM,” Abidi added.

The party has also said the restriction on broadcasts of Altaf Hussain’s live speeches must be lifted.

“If these demands are met, we can move further. We are waiting for the (government’s) response. Our internal consultations with the top leadership (in London) and the senior leaders here is ongoing,” he maintained.

Information Minister Pervez Rashid denied the Karachi operation was against any particular party. “The operation is against terrorists, not any party. We want the MQM to stay active in politics. Their reservations will be addressed,” he said.

One minister went further and told The Nation the government was ready to accept the MQM’s demands subject to legal advice. “We hope we will solve the issue soon,” he said.

The efforts to appease MQM emerged amid a chorus of calls from across the political spectrum for the party to change its mind.

Opposition Leader in National Assembly Khurshid Shah said in National Assembly, “The chair should not make decision (on MQM resignations) in haste… Matter should be reviewed to find a solution according to the law and constitution.”

The MQM has representation in National Assembly, Senate and Sindh Assembly so the problem should be resolved in the house, he said, and urged the irritated party to keep playing its parliamentary role.

In the Senate Chaudhry Tanveer Ahmed of ruling PML-N – which only days earlier had accused MQM of treachery over allegations that it had appealed for Indian intervention in the Karachi crisis – lauded the party for its patriotic legacy.

Sussi Palejo of the PPP said, “There are so many ways other than resignations to launch protest.”

Despite the crescendo of voices calling for the party to remain in the national and provincial assemblies, some PTI and JUI-F figures struck a discordant note.

Fazlur Rahman said though he had agreed to act as a go-between to find a compromise, he did not believe their resignations could now be withdrawn.

“I have accepted the responsibility to contact Altaf Hussain and other MQM leaders so that they withdraw their resignations... But I still believe that once resignations are submitted, they cannot be taken back as per the spirit of the constitution,” he remarked. “There is no change in my position. It (the opinion) was the same my party had over the PTI resignations,” he added.

The JUI-F chief said he would consult legal and constitutional experts over the issue. “If there is a room in the constitution to withdraw resignations then I will make an effort to ensure that a political crisis does not develop in the country,” he pledged.

Later, Fazlur Rehman spoke with MQM leader Farooq Sattar and advised him that his party should not quit parliamentary politics.

Rival PTI says the government should not come under pressure and must not stop the Karachi operation. PTI leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi said the MQM’s decision to quit was a political issue. He claimed that the statements of MQM leaders show that they were ready to take back their resignations.