LAHORE: Pakistan Peo­ples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) vice president Maryam Nawaz are going to meet over lunch at the latter’s Jati Umra residence on Sunday to discuss a joint strategy to steer the country out of various crises.

This will be the second meeting of the leadership of the two main opposition parties in less than a month.

“I will go to Jati Umra on Sunday for a lunch on invitation of Maryam Nawaz. We are meeting, as a single party cannot steer the country out of crises,” Mr Bhutto-Zardari said in reply to a question during a media talk here on Saturday.

The PPP chairman said his party had ideological differences with the PML-N and the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf. “As per our manifesto, we are ready to work with other political parties for the sake of the country, but this puppet government is not willing to address the people’s problems,” he said.

In reply to a question about launching a joint drive against the Imran Khan government, Mr Bhutto-Zardari said the PPP had already started mobilising its workers. “Regarding taking to the streets by the joint opposition, a multi-party conference is being convened [by Maulana Fazlur Rehman] for the purpose,” he said, adding that his father Asif Ali Zardari had been arrested because the government knew he could gather the whole opposition on one platform against it.

Asked whether the opposition would press for midterm polls, he said: “We want parliament to complete its term.”

Addressing Prime Minister Imran Khan, the PPP chief said: “Even if you put my whole family and party leaders in jail, the PPP will not budge from its stance on the 18th Amendment, military courts, missing persons, human rights as we are an ideological party. Our leadership and the workers embrace martyrdom. Unlike Imran Khan, we do not take U-turns.”

He said there was no difference between the government of Imran Khan and that of a dictator’s. “Every state institution is being run through coercion and parliament has no value in Imran Khan’s Pakistan. The judiciary is also being attacked. Instead of honouring his claim, Imran Khan has forced the nation to commit suicide after handing over the country to the IMF,” he said.

Replying to a question about PPP’s support for the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), Mr Bhutto-Zardari said: “The production order for MNAs from Fata should have been issued for its representation in the budget session.”

Maryam Nawaz said she had taken on board the top and senior party leadership, including her interned father and opposition leader, for her meeting with the PPP chairman.

“[Meeting with Bilawal] and all other decisions in the party are taken after the approval of MNS & MSS & taking the senior leaders into confidence. Discipline & party hierarchy are followed by all including me,” she tweeted.

According to a PML-N leader, she called Mr Bhutto-Zardari over the phone and invited him at her residence for lunch that he accepted. “Close associates of both leaders will also attend the meeting,” said PML-N Information Secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb.

The Sharif and Bhutto scions first met in May in Islamabad, with both parties describing the meeting informal to establish “rapport” with each other. However, the PML-N and PPP leaders are calling this meeting more significant for launch of a joint movement against the government.

“The fathers of both Maryam and Bilawal are in jail and both young leaders have massive public appeal and a joint protest drive may put the Imran Khan government on the back foot over its ambitious agenda against the opposition,” said a PML-N leader privy to the development while speaking to Dawn.

He said since the top leadership of both parties was in jail, it was time that the young leadership conducted aggressive politics in the face of the Imran government’s “vindictive” actions against the opposition, attack on judges of the superior courts and the anti-people budget.

“Both parties are likely to build a momentum against the government on these issues in the first phase and protest will be the agenda in the next phase, which will probably be led by Maulana Fazl,” he added.

Published in Dawn, June 16th, 2019