Lahore: The Pakistan government has launched a last-ditch effort to stop cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri from going ahead with a "long march" from Lahore to Islamabad on January 14 by initiating talks with him through PML-Q leaders. PML-Q president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, who is also the Deputy Prime Minister, called on Qadri at his residence in Model Town here late last night and conveyed a message from President Asif Ali Zardari.
After the meeting, Hussain said talks had begun with Qadri on behalf of the Pakistan People's Party-led ruling coalition, which includes the PML-Q. "The charter of demands Qadri gave us will be presented to the partners in the coalition for a decision," he said. Hussain said he hoped Qadri would call off the "long march".
However, Qadri said his rally would not be postponed even though he was negotiating with the government. "At some point of the long march, the parleys were to begin here or Islamabad," he claimed. Qadri, who heads the Tehrik Minhaj-ul-Quran, recently returned to Pakistan after living in Canada for seven years and announced he would lead a rally to pressure the government to carry out reforms ahead of the upcoming general election.
The Muttahida Quami Movement, a member of the ruling coalition at the centre, had earlier said it would take part in the long march. The party withdrew its support at the eleventh hour, citing security threats and the possibility of terror attacks on the rally.
Qadri said he would not be affected by the MQM's decision. "There will be a long march and it will neither be called off nor postponed at any cost," he pledged. He said if the rally was attacked or if anything happened to him, then President Zardari, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, former premier Nawaz Sharif, Interior Minister Rehman Malik, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah should be responsible.
Qadri had earlier set January 10 as the deadline for electoral reforms. He also demanded that the government should involve thearmy and judiciary in the process for installing an interim set-up to oversee the polls. The ruling PPP and main opposition PML-N have accused Qadri of being involved in a plot hatched by the security establishment. They are of the view that the establishment wants to derail democracy and Qadri is part of a conspiracy.