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Zardari rebuffs Nawaz Sharif’s offer for handshake

Updated November 24, 2017

LAHORE: It appears that efforts to bring the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leadership to the negotiating table will be futile for now as PPP leaders Asif Ali Zardari and his son Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari have, once again, turned away the olive branch offered by ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

Shortly after his appearance before an accountability court on Wednesday, Mr Sharif had announced that he was ready to shake hands with Mr Zardari for the sake of the country, “and not personal interests”.

But Mr Zardari was quoted as having responded to the request in earnest with a scathing: “[He] remembers the Charter of Democracy only when his own person matters. Sorry, I cannot meet him.”

PPP chairperson Bhutto-Zardari also rejected the PML-N chief’s overtures and asked the go-between, sent by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, to contact the party’s parliamentary leadership instead.

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“We have empowered the parliamentary leadership to take decisions on matters of national importance. As far as I’m concerned, I’m not ready to meet [the PML-N’s leaders],” he said.

Meanwhile, PML-N leaders Senator Pervaiz Rashid and Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah spoke to journalists, explaining the backdrop of the overtures they had been making to the PPP’s leadership for some time.

“We have sought cooperation for ensuring the passage of the new constituencies’ bill, so we can hold the 2018 elections on time...and ensure civilian supremacy,” Mr Rashid told a TV channel.

Rana Sana told reporters outside the Punjab Assembly that Mr Sharif did not need crutch support from Mr Zardari, nor were any personal interests involved. The PPP leader was only approached to discuss the matter of passing the law about new constituencies, he said, adding that if Mr Zardari placed hurdles for delaying the polls due next year, it would tarnish the PPP’s claims of upholding democracy.

PPP’s senior vice president Mian Manzoor Ahmad Wattoo dismissed the possibility of a meeting between the two leaders, saying there was no way that the PPP’s leadership would agree to facilitate the government in passing the new constituencies’ bill in the Senate.

Speaking to Dawn over the phone, Mr Wattoo said that the PPP had supported the bill in the National Assembly because it knew that it could never defeat it in the lower house, considering their strength. “We played our cards well at the right time when the government introduced the bill in the Senate where we enjoyed a majority. Now everyone is looking at our move and the leadership will take a decision in the best interest of democracy and the country.”

He rejected the PML-N’s fears that failure to enact the law would delay the election, saying the electoral exercise could be conducted on the basis of the 1998 census.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari advised Mr Sharif to respect democracy and the army, and distanced himself from the statements made by the ousted premier in the wake of the Panama Papers case. “Mian Nawaz Sharif should think about democracy and set aside his personal matters,” he said, adding: “Mian Sahib is a threat to democracy.”

Recalling Mr Sharif’s views on then prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s ouster by the Supreme Court, he advised the PML-N leader to follow his own advice offered by back then.

Speaking to journalists at the baraat ceremony of the nephew of PPP’s central information secretary Chaudhry Manzoor Ahmad on Thursday, Mr Bhutto-Zardari said firmly that despite the PML-N’s attempts to start a dialogue, he had no intention of speaking to Mr Sharif about anything.

Commenting on Mr Sharif’s statement that he represented an ideology, he said Mr Sharif was an opportunist who did not even know the meaning of ideology. “Working for one’s personal interest cannot be termed as working for some ideology.”

He said the PPP had a clear stance on the subject of civilian supremacy and it won’t budge an inch from its stance.

Published in Dawn, November 24th, 2017