ISLAMABAD: Announcing that they would go ahead with their individual plans of anti-government protests, the leaders of the country’s major opposition parties said on Sunday they would devise their future course of action and a “joint strategy” at a multi-party conference (MPC) to be organised by the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) soon after Eid, adding they could no longer allow the government to continue to “ruin the country”.
Addressing a news conference after a well-attended Iftar dinner hosted by PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, the leaders of 11 political parties vowed to launch a “decisive movement” aimed at “establishing supremacy of parliament and restoration of real democracy” in the country.
Former president Asif Ali Zardari, who was present at the Iftar dinner, skipped the news conference which was spearheaded by Mr Bhutto-Zardari and Maryam Nawaz, the younger generations of the leadership of the country’s main opposition parties and arch rivals of the past – the PPP and the PML-N.
Maryam, Fazl, Sherpao, Bizenjo attend Bilawal’s Iftar dinner; JUI to call multi-party conference
Mr Bhutto-Zardari said every party had its own manifesto and programme, but they believed that no individual or political party alone could steer the country out of the crises.
Thanking all participants, he said they had discussed the prevailing “political situation, economic crisis and the state of democracy and human rights” in the country.
He said almost all parties had already announced their protest campaigns which would go ahead inside and outside the parliament as per plan, but at the same time they had decided to meet again at an MPC which would be hosted by Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who later said that he would announce the date for the MPC soon after Eidul Fitr, falling in the first week of June.
The Maulana said the “incompetent and non-representative government” had brought the country at the verge of collapse.
Sources told Dawn that in the meeting, Maulana Fazl was in favour of launching a full-fledged anti-government movement soon after Eid, stating that “they are already too late”.
The sources quoted Qaumi Watan Party (QWP) chief Aftab Sherpao as saying that opposition should launch the protest campaign only after making “full preparations” as they could not afford to leave it midway. He also suggested that they should take the business community and traders from Karachi to Khyber on board to make their campaign effective.
The PPP chairman while responding to a question stressed the need for revisiting the Charter of Democracy (CoD) that had been signed by the two former prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto in 2006, and called for including more political parties in it.
Maryam Nawaz, who mostly remained silent during the news conference, while responding to a question said it was because of the CoD that the country had witnessed two democratically elected governments completing their five-year terms.
Though, Ms Nawaz clarified that it was not her first meeting with Mr Bhutto-Zardari as they had previously met when the PPP chairman had visited her Raiwind residence to condole the death of her mother Begum Kulsoom Nawaz and again when he had visited her father at Kot Lakhpat jail, it was their first formal meeting in which they discussed politics.
PML-N’s senior vice-president and former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said there was complete consensus among all the parties that the present government had “completely failed” in resolving the people’s problems. He said people were suffering from the policies of the rulers who had acquired power after the “controversial” elections last year. He alleged that the rulers had put the “country’s sovereignty” at stake. He claimed that in the meeting they did not discuss at all the ongoing “so-called accountability process.”
Mr Abbasi alleged that they were being denied the right to speak on the floor of parliament, adding: “If you will not allow us to speak in parliament, then talks will be held on roads”.
Ruling coalition partner
The get-together was also attended by the representatives of the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) which is a partner of the ruling coalition. The invitation had been extended to the party as its members had also attended a grand opposition meeting at the Parliament House chamber of Opposition Leader Shahbaz Sharif in January.
Speaking at the news conference, Senator Jahanzeb Jamaldini of the BNP-M said it was their duty to make parliament the most powerful institution of the country, adding every institution should work within its constitutional limits.
Mohsin Dawar, an independent MNA from the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas, also attended the meeting and during the news conference, he was introduced by Mr Bhutto-Zardari as a representative of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement, an organisation working for protection of Pakhtun rights.
Mr Dawar said as a citizen of the country their relationship with the state was based on a “document known as the Constitution.” He regretted that in the past the Constitution was abrogated several times and warned that now Pakistan could not afford such an action.
“Time has come that the Constitution should be implemented in letter and spirit,” he said.
The meeting was also attended by the nationalist parties from Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa sitting on the opposition benches.
Hasil Bizenjo of the National Party said they had not gathered to discuss any plan to “topple” the government. He was of the view that the government could not survive even for a week if the opposition parties having more than 50 per cent representation in the legislatures decided to remove the government.
“If we [opposition lawmakers] submit our resignations tomorrow, there will be no government in the office,” he went on saying.
Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) president Mehmood Achakzai, who could not reach Islamabad due to shortage of time, was represented by his party member Shafiq Tareen in the meeting.
Mian Iftikhar of the Awami National Party alleged that unfortunately only “to benefit an individual, the establishment has pushed all political parties to wall”. He said some people were wrong in saying that if the parliament was sent packing, someone else would come to power.
“If the people have power, no one can take over the government,” he added.
QWP chief Aftab Sherpao criticised the government for “handing over” the country to the International Monetary Fund, saying the opposition could not see the destruction of the country as “silent spectators.”
Earlier, Hamza Shahbaz, the opposition leader in the Punjab Assembly and son of PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif, drove his cousin Maryam Nawaz in a car to Zardari House in a rainy evening.
Most of the guests, including the PML-N delegation, arrived at the venue minutes before Maghrib prayers, the time to break the fast.
The young PPP chairman received the guests at the main entrance of his residence with senior party members. The PPP had arranged the gathering on the spacious lawns of Zardari House, but a heavy windstorm minutes before the Maghrib prayers uprooted the tents, forcing the guests to move inside.
Most of the pictures and video clips of the gathering released by the PPP’s Central Media Office before start of the formal consultation showed the smiling participants exchanging pleasantries with each other in a light mood.
Maulana Fazl was a late comer as he reached Zardari House after the Iftar. The formal consultation among the opposition leaders started after the dinner and the participants were provided an opportunity to give their view point after a brief welcoming speech by Mr Bhutto-Zardari.
Other members of the PML-N delegation were Mr Abbasi, former National Assembly speaker Ayaz Sadiq, Senator Pervez Rashid and the party’s information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb.
Prominent participants of the host PPP were former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, Senator Raza Rabbani, Syed Khurshid Shah, Sherry Rehman, Farhatullah Babar and Nayyar Bokhari.
The get-together took place at a time when PML-N’s supreme leader Nawaz Sharif is in jail and his younger brother and party president Shahbaz Sharif is in London.
Meanwhile, the PML-N has already convened its own grand meeting in Islamabad on Monday (today) to devise its future strategy.
Published in Dawn, May 20th, 2019