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Old rivals in rare bonhomie

Updated September 06, 2013

ISLAMABAD, Sept 5: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s farewell lunch for President Asif Ali Zardari on Thursday turned out to be an event which would be remembered in the often hate-filled political history of the country as the two political rivals waxed lyrical about each other’s “crucial support” to strengthen democracy.

Once known for hitting at each other proverbial below the belt, particularly during the 1990s, both the host and the guest delved into fond memories they had shared after General Pervez Musharraf curbed the two mainstream parties — PPP, PML-N — following the 1999 military coup.

Prime Minister Sharif sounded more nostalgic than President Zardari and recalled how former prime minister Benazir Bhutto visited him in Jeddah and London when he was in exile and braving the toughest time of his life.

Without naming Gen Musharraf, the prime minister largely spoke of events following his ouster from power by the former general which brought the leadership of the two parties closer.

In his written speech, Mr Sharif didn’t mince words in giving the credit for the ongoing political reconciliation between the two parties to late Ms Bhutto and President Zardari. “They disregarded a history of grievances between our two parties and took an initiative to establish contacts with us,” Nawaz Sharif recalled.

“It is the corollary of these contacts which besides creating a feeling of benevolence between us, kick-started a new era which has had huge positive impact on the national politics,” he said.

Mr Sharif especially lauded the signing of the Charter of Democracy between the PML-N and the PPP in London on May 14, 2006.

“I must accept with open heart that President Zardari not only introduced new traditions of personal relationship, warmth and reconciliation in the realm of politics, but successfully implemented them. On this occasion, I would only talk about sweet memories, though we do have bitter ones too,” he said.

Recalling the sad day of Dec 27, 2007, when Benazir Bhutto lost her life, the prime minister praised the role Mr Zardari then played and took care of his family and the party.

“With the completion of five-year term by the first-ever democratically elected president of the country, and his farewell being organised at the Prime Minister Office, another first in the 66-year history of the country, democracy is here to stay in the country. Democracy gets strengthened with such healthy traditions,” he said.

The prime minister wished the outgoing president and his party good luck and hoped that he would play a constructive role in strengthening democracy and for the welfare of the masses and wellbeing of the country. “This is our common agenda.” In his extempore speech, President Zardari thanked the PML-N government and Prime Minister Sharif for honouring him. He praised the role of the PML-N as an opposition party in the PPP government.

The president said the PPP had lacked a two-thirds majority in the previous parliament, but with the help of the opposition carried out important legislation and many other major tasks.

Mr Zardari assured the PML-N government of his party’s full support and said keeping with good and healthy traditions the PPP will always be there for good initiatives taken by the government. “This is not the time to indulge in politicking; we will do politics after five years when the next general elections will be announced,” he said.

Referring to events taking place in the Middle East, President Zardari urged political leaders to close their ranks as the “fire raging in the Muslim world is not far from us and we must put our house in order to protect ourselves”.

Commenting on the farewell lunch, a political analyst said the prime minister had sent a clear message to the president, who would be heading the PPP after leaving the presidency, that “look, I have let you complete your five-year term without creating any major hassle, and now it’s time to reciprocate”.