ISLAMABAD: The ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) have formally started contacting other political parties — the latter to muster support for the Nov 2 plan for ‘Islamabad lockdown’ and the former to deal with such a situation.

According to sources, federal Minister for Railways Khawaja Saad Rafique contacted Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khurshid Shah by telephone whereas PTI vice-chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi called on Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid leader Chaudhry Pervaiz Ilahi at his residence here on Saturday.

Sources in the Pakistan Peoples Party said that the railways minister had sought an appointment from the opposition leader for a meeting to discuss the prevailing political situation with particular reference to the call given by PTI chairman Imran Khan to lock down Islamabad in protest against the government for allegedly delaying investigation into the Panamagate scam.

Mr Shah, however, told the minister that he would not be available in Islamabad until Tuesday as he was busy in some party activities.

When contacted, PPP spokesman Farhatullah Babar confirmed that the railways minister had contacted Mr Shah. He, however, said that Mr Shah would himself apprise the media about the development in his hometown Sukkur on Sunday.

PTI vice-chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi denied that he had extended any invitation to the PML-Q leader for participation in the party’s protest.

Mr Qureshi claimed that he had gone to Mr Ilahi’s residence to felicitate him over the elections in the PML-Q and to inquire about the health of Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, who was currently admitted to a hospital in Germany.

Moreover, he said, he had thanked the former Punjab chief minister for supporting the PTI’s cause in a party meeting held on Friday.

Talking to reporters after the meeting, Mr Ilahi said that for the sake of the country’s security and national institutions, everyone should support Mr Khan.

He, however, did not say whether the PML-Q would participate in the Nov 2 protest.

Senior vice-president of the PML-Q Ajmal Wazir, when contacted, said that the party had sought details from the PTI about the Nov 2 plan. He said the PML-Q in principle supported Mr Khan’s call for the protest, but it would make any decision regarding participation in it after holding consultations within the party and knowing the exact plan of the PTI. He said more meetings between the two parties were expected in the next few days.

Mr Wazir said that Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain’s health was improving and that he was expected to return to the country next week.

It may be recalled here that the PML-Q had previously announced support for the PTI’s calls for protests, but it did not participate in the Raiwind rally saying that it could not consider it appropriate to hold protests outside private residences.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif tasked federal Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid and Railways Minister Saad Rafique to contact other political parties to take them into confidence over the government’s stance on investigations into the Panamagate scam after issuance of notices to the Sharifs and other party members by the Supreme Court.

The government team has also been assigned the task of discussing the possible strategies to deal with the planned Islamabad lockdown.

The prime minister welcomed initiation of judicial proceedings in the Panama Papers case and asked opposition parties to wait for the court’s verdict.

The PTI, however, rejected the prime minister’s request, saying that the party could no more trust a person who had been hoodwinking parliament and other state institutions for the past seven months to escape accountability.

The PTI chief declared that the party would go ahead with its protest despite issuance of notices to the prime minister and others by the apex court and ruled out any negotiations with the government over his decision to bring the federal capital to a standstill on Nov 2.

Mr Khan also stated that his party would hold talks with the government only after shutting down Islamabad, and not before.

Sources in the ruling party told Dawn that the government was confident that like the previous sit-in by the PTI in 2014, no other political party would join its call for shutting down Islamabad. Moreover, they said, PML-N leaders were taking Mr Khan’s statement that he would hold talks with the government only after shutting down Islamabad as a “positive development” as earlier the PTI chief had announced that he would not hold talks with the government and would return from Islamabad only after getting Mr Sharif’s resignation.

The PTI has announced that it will lay siege to parts of the city on Nov 2 if by then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif doesn’t agree to an investigation into the Panama Papers leaks, under the terms of reference proposed by the opposition, or resign from his position.

On the other hand, the main opposition PPP had launched a two-pronged attack, accusing Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of accentuating the crisis by refusing to investigation into the leaked Panama Papers and condemning Mr Khan and his party for indulging in a ‘criminal act’ by threatening to lock down the country’s capital.

The PPP leaders have been stating in categorical terms that they do support Mr Khan’s demand that the prime minister should present himself for accountability, but the party would never support the PTI’s plan to besiege the capital city.

The opposition leader has declared that Mr Khan’s decision to ‘lock down’ Islamabad would amount to “a criminal act”.

Published in Dawn, October 23rd, 2016

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