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Opposition yet to decide mode of anti-govt protest

Updated May 19, 2019

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This will be the first formal interaction between the kin of the two former prime ministers and arch rivals of the past — Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto. — File/DawnNewsTV
This will be the first formal interaction between the kin of the two former prime ministers and arch rivals of the past — Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto. — File/DawnNewsTV

ISLAMABAD: Threatening to launch separate anti-government protests after Eid, the top leadership of all opposition parties will put their heads together at an “informal gathering” at Zardari House here on Sunday (today) in yet another effort to forge a grand opposition alliance.

While political analysts and media circles are giving importance to the Iftar-dinner being hosted by Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, the opposition leaders are trying to downplay the occasion, terming it “merely a get-together.”

“There is no formal agenda and no formal meeting. It is just a get-together of the opposition leaders as the party chairman [Mr Bhutto-Zardari] wants to establish rapport with them,” said PPP secretary general Farhatullah Babar.

However, he said, when “politicians meet, they do discuss politics” and “you can call it a tentative grand meeting of the opposition parties and it can be seen as a step towards a formal get-together in the near future.”

Mr Babar said the PPP chairman had invited all opposition parties and they were expecting participation of the leaders of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F), Awami National Party, National Party and other smaller groups.

Maryam among leaders to gather at Zardari House today

Mr Babar said they had also invited Jamaat-i-Islami chief Sirajul Haq, but he had told them that he would be busy in Karachi on Sunday. Moreover, they had also invited the leaders of the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M), which is part of the ruling coalition.

The most significant aspect of the event is expected participation of newly-appointed vice-president of the main opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Maryam Nawaz. This will be the first formal interaction between the kin of the two former prime ministers and arch rivals of the past — Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto.

The meeting is taking place at a time when PML-N supreme leader Nawaz Sharif is in jail and his younger brother and party president Shahbaz Sharif in London. Expressing concern over the prevailing economic situation in the country in the wake of increase in oil prices and unprecedented devaluation of Pakistani rupee against the US dollar, leaders of almost all major opposition parties have announced or hinted at launching a protest campaign against the government soon after Eid.

Read: PPP to launch street protest against govt after Eid: Zardari

Moreover, background interviews with a number of office-bearers and members of the opposition parties reveal that an internal discussion on the “mode of protest” is going on in all the parties.

With the religious parties announcing that they have decided to launch an anti-government movement soon after Eid, the two major opposition parties — the PPP and the PML-N — are still undecided on the timing.

Sources in the PPP told Dawn that the option of launching an anti-government campaign was discussed in detail by senior party leaders during a meeting of the party’s core committee in Islamabad on Friday.

The sources said the participants were unanimous in their viewpoint that if they did not raise their voice against the recent government decision to increase the prices of electricity, gas and oil, it would “politically damage” the party. However, they said, the PPP members differed on the timing and the mode of protest.

“Some hawkish members were of the view that they should not give more time to the government and give a call to the people to come on roads whereas another group suggested that they should give more time to the government while giving tough time to the rulers inside the Parliament,” said a senior PPP leader, who was present in the Friday’s meeting. He said those opposing immediate launching of an anti-government campaign were of the view that the PPP should wait till an “appropriate time” while continuing to put more and more pressure on the government with a hope for an in-house change. They believe that they would not need to mobilise the masses as the people would themselves come out on streets due to unprecedented price hike.

On the other hand, the PPP leader said, some members of the party were of the view that the party should lead a campaign against the government, believing that the country could face a chaotic situation if they allowed the people to take to streets in “disorganised manner.”

The PPP leader admitted that JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman wanted to give a call for a long march on Islamabad for “a final and decisive push” to the government and he had also sought cooperation of his party in this regard.

However, he said, the Maulana had no reply when asked “what next” if they tried to abruptly remove the government. “We have not yet received a reply from the Maulana to the question ‘what next’. The day we receive a categorical reply, we will decide our strategy accordingly,” said the senior PPP leader who had been privy to the recent contacts between the opposition parties.

Meanwhile, the PML-N has convened its own grand meeting in Islamabad on Monday (tomorrow) to devise its future strategy.

Published in Dawn, May 19th, 2019