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ISLAMABAD: The two main opposition parties — Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) — seem set to become ‘strange bedfollows’ when their top leaderships will share the stage at the public meeting, convened by the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), as there seems to be no agreement between the two regarding a joint plan of action.

Background interviews with leaders from both parties reveal that while the PTI is ready to extend its support to PAT chief Dr Tahirul Qadri if he decides to extend his protest and convert the public meeting into an indefinite sit-in, the PPP is opposed to any such idea.

While opposition politicians — in their speeches and interactions with the media — have been claiming that their protest would continue until the ouster of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and Law Minister Rana Sanaullah, the PPP maintains that the main purpose of their participation in the Jan 17 public meeting in Lahore would be to express solidarity with PAT activists killed in the 2014 police firing in Model Town.

The party is clear that it does not want to make the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) a “political martyr” at a time when the tenure of its government is about to end.

PTI not opposed to indefinite sit-in; PPP insists it will be one-day protest

The steering committee formed after a multiparty conference last month had announced this past week their decision to launch a countrywide protest from Jan 17 to “end all PML-N governments and decimate them as a party” after a Jan 7 deadline set by them for the Punjab chief minister and law minister’s resignation ran out.

Briefing the media at the end of an hours-long meeting of the steering committee, PAT chief Dr Tahirul Qadri had said that after the deadline ran out, their demands had also changed and that “all PML-N governments, wherever they are, will have to go now”.

At the time, Dr Qadri had stated that a seven-member action committee had been formed to finalise arrangements for the protest movement.

The body includes Qamar Zaman Kaira from the PPP, Aleem Khan from the PTI, Kamil Ali Agha of the PML-Q, Sheikh Rashid, Khurram Nawaz Gandapur of PAT, Nasir Sherazi from the Majlis Wahdatul Muslimeen and Liaquat Baloch of the Jamaat-i-Islami.

All party heads had been invited to the first day of the protest and this will be the first time that PPP chief Asif Zardari and PTI Chairman Imran Khan will be sharing the same stage.

Speaking at a news conference in Lahore on Sunday, PPP Punjab president Qamar Zaman Kaira said the steering committee would meet tomorrow (Tuesday) to finalise a strategy for the Jan 17 public meeting, as well as a future course of action.

PTI chief Imran Khan has stated several times that as long as Mr Zardari is head of the PPP, the two parties can never come close or enter into an alliance.

When contacted, PTI Information Secretary Shafqat Mehmood said his party would fully participate in the Jan 17 protest in Lahore, as per the directive of the party chief. He said they had not given any countrywide call to party workers to participate in the protest, and their main focus was Lahore for the time being.

When asked about the party’s policy if Dr Qadri converted his rally into an indefinite sit-in, Mr Mehmood said that so far, it was a one-day event and there was no plan to hold an indefinite sit-in.

He said the possibility of extending the protest and converting it into a sit-in could not be ruled out, but the final decision in this regard will be made by all parties.

Responding to a question, Mr Mehmood said he did not know whether Mr Zardari would be taking part, adding that he could only confirm that Imran Khan would definitely address the public meeting.

On the other hand, PPP Secretary General Nayyar Bokhari said that his party had decided to fully participate in the Jan 17 public meeting, but it was unlikely that it would support any move to turn the protest into an indefinite sit-in.

“We are supporting them only to the extent of Model Town victims, we never intended to bring down the government through agitation,” Mr Bokhari declared. He said their main demand was that the victims of the Model Town incident got justice and their cooperation to PAT would continue in this regard.

“There are hardly a few months are left and we do not want to make anyone a [political] martyr”, he said, categorically stating that they wanted to see the current assemblies complete their tenure.

Talking to Dawn, PPP Spokesperson Farhatullah Babar said that he could only confirm that Asif Zardari planned to attend the PAT event, but did not know whether he would make a speech or not. He said the whole format of the event would be decided over the next couple of days, after Mr Zardari arrived in Lahore on Tuesday.

Published in Dawn, January 15th, 2018