ISLAMABAD - The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Wednesday decided to form a committee to hold talks with Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman in a bid to convince him to postpone his anti-government “Azadi March” towards Islamabad.

The Core Committee, one of the party’s highest level decision-making forums, that met under the chair of Prime Minister Imran Khan decided to form a committee headed by Defence Minister Pervez Khattak to negotiate with the JUI-F and other opposition parties to persuade them to drop their protest plan.

The meeting also decided to hold local bodies elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where the party has provincial governments, in February 2020.

Federal ministers, senior party leaders and chief ministers as well as governors of Punjab and KP attended the meeting that was specially called to make a strategy on the announced protest plan of JUI-F. The meeting also discussed the overall political situation of the country.

On October 3, JUI-F chief had announced that his party would hold the anti-government “Azadi March” to Islamabad on October 27 as a protest against the alleged rigging in 2018 general elections. He had declared that caravans from different parts of the country would reach Islamabad, stay there and send this government packing.

On October 9, Maulana made a slight change in its programme and said that the participants of the planned long march would enter the federal capital on October 31, instead of October 27 — a reason because the government was criticising him for holding the protest on the day when India had occupied Kashmir in 1947.

“The Core committee has made two political decisions,” Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said while addressing the press conference after the meeting and added: “We are a political party and we have the ability and passion to handle political matters in a political way.” He said that the meeting decided to form a committee headed by Khattak and it would meet with JUI-F and ask about the political issues they wanted to take up. “We are ready to engage them and if there was a suitable way out, we will do that.”

The foreign minister made it clear that the government was not frightened with any long march or sit-in and said that no one should be in a misunderstanding that sit-ins could send the governments packing. “But if there is apolitical solution, we are ready and we have decided for a political engagement.”

He reminded that Pakistan was fighting the Kashmir battle at international forums and it was necessary that a uniform voice should go from them and it should be kept in mind that October 27 was a black day for the people of Indian Occupied Kashmir.

“We have to see that whether we are not damaging this larger cause.” And secondly Pakistan is entering into a circle of economic stability after passing through a financial crunch, he said and added that the protest could cause a damage to the country’s economy.

“In order to improve the governance, we have decided to form the third-tier of governments in those provinces where PTI is the ruling party,” he made another announcement. Thus the Core Committee has decided that first phase of local government elections would be held in KP and Punjab in February 2020, he said.

The Core Committee decided that there was no harm in holding negotiations with the JUI-F and the defence minister would chose other members of the committee of his own choice. The committee has been tasked to talk to the JUI-F chief and ask about its demands to be further discussed the same with the PM to see whether they are acceptable for the government or not, a senior party leader said.

PM Imran Khan while addressing the participants said it was the right of every political party to protest but its agenda should be clear. He argued before the committee that the country was already facing many problems and couldn’t afford a protest sit-in or a march.

The PM told the senior party leadership that the government would accept the fair demands of opposition but it can look into other options in case of a deadlock, the party leader informed.

The PM in the meeting also took into confidence the PTI leadership over his recent visits to Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The meeting also sought an explanation from Federal Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry about his recent statement asking “the public not to look towards the government for jobs.” Chaudhry answered that two TV channels quoted him out of context.