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BILAWAL Bhutto-Zardari and Nawaz Sharif
BILAWAL Bhutto-Zardari and Nawaz Sharif

LAHORE: Ice began to melt in relations between the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Pakistan Peoples Party when Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari along with a party delegation visited incarcerated former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in Kot Lakhpat jail on Monday.

The PML-N supreme lea­der warmly welcomed and thanked the PPP chairman as well as former president Asif Ali Zardari, a source privy to the meeting said.

Using her Twitter account, Maryam Nawaz also thanked Mr Bhutto-Zardari, terming his visit a “thoughtfulness” and “kind gesture”.

“Thank you very much @BButtoZardari for your thoughtfulness & kind gesture. Means a lot to me. Prayers & every good wish. God bless,” she tweeted.

Relations between Mr Sharif and Asif Zardari got strained when, as the prime minister, the PML-N leader had cancelled a meeting with the PPP co-chairperson after the latter’s harsh statement against the security establishment back in 2015.

Maryam hails PPP chairman’s gesture; minister terms it a meeting between grandson of Bhutto and ‘adopted son’ of Gen Zia

Mr Zardari accused Mr Sharif of using him against the establishment while he himself (Mr Sharif) tried to get close to it. Since then the former president has been refusing to sit with the PML-N supremo even after his dismissal as prime minister by the Supreme Court in the Panama Papers case.

Political analysts are giving weight to the meeting as Mr Zardari is also present in the Punjab capital with apparently no engagements.

The PPP-PML-N engagement didn’t go well with the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf as federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry taunted the major opposition parties, saying “it was a meeting between the grandson of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and adopted son of Gen Ziaul Haq”.

Talking to the media outside the jail, Mr Bhutto-Zardari said the conversation during the more than an hour-long meeting mostly remained focused on the health of Mian Sahib, though national political scenario and 2018 general election results came under discussion as well. He said the imprisonment of a thrice-elected and unwell prime minister didn’t give a good message when they would talk of human rights and democracy at various [international] forums.

In a veiled reference to Mr Sharif’s complaint that the government was only humiliating him in the name of extending healthcare, the PPP chairman wondered how one could heal a heart patient by keeping him under stress and termed this stress mental torture for the patient.

He rejected the proposition that Mr Sharif was seeking a deal from the incumbent rulers, arguing that during his father’s 11-year imprisonment without conviction not a single month passed when rumour of the PPP striking a deal with the then government was not spread.

“Mian Sahib seems quite unwell. But I got no impression [during the meeting] that he’s ready for a deal or compromise. They’re conspiring against Mian Sahib, otherwise he and the N-League are sticking to their principled stand.”

Mr Bhutto-Zardari dispelled an impression that any suggestion of alliance was discussed with Mr Sharif during the meeting, but said the opposition parties were already unanimous that they won’t compromise on humanitarian, economic and democratic rights.

Responding to a question, he admitted that both the PPP and PML-N had failed in their respective tenures in government to fully implement the Charter of Democracy (CoD) signed by assassinated PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif back in 2006, like not introducing judicial reforms to address the “black law” (a reference to NAB law under which Mr Sharif was also convicted) enforced by Gen Musharraf’s dictatorial regime.

Arguing that there must be a code of conduct for politicians, the PPP leader said his party would push the CoD to overcome shortcomings in the political system. He told a questioner that a new document could also be prepared by seeking input from parties other than the PPP and PML-N conforming to the CoD.

Asked if Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party could also be invited for the purpose, he said he didn’t think that the PTI as a party could be invited nor Khan Sahib seemed interested in it. However, the serious and ideological elements in the PTI might be invited for a constructive input, he added.

Answering a question about the possibility of his meeting with Maryam Nawaz, the PPP chairman said he would be happy to meet her while he regularly met Shahbaz Sharif and other PML-N leaders in parliament.

The PPP leaders who accompanied Mr Bhutto-Zardari to jail included Munawar Anjum, Qamar Zaman Kaira, Mustafa Khokhar, Hassan Murtaza and Jameel Soomro.

The PPP chairman chided Prime Minister Khan for what he called spoiling the atmosphere of unity in the country through his speech in Thar, Sindh. Declaring Finance Minister Asad Umar “a literate-illiterate minister”, he said he could not understand why the minister talked ill of his use of English for speaking in parliament.

Published in Dawn, March 12th, 2019