LAHORE: With complete submission to jailed former premier Nawaz Sharif’s will, a Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz huddle under party president Shahbaz Sharif on Saturday agreed that a final strategy for the anti-government protest would be formulated in consultation with Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman in light of the PML-N supremo’s instructions.

It was decided in the meeting that a delegation comprising PML-N secretary general Ahsan Iqbal, information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chapter president of the party Amir Muqam would meet the Maulana in Peshawar on Sunday (today) and share with him the contents of Nawaz’s letter to Shahbaz that has laid out “a complete framework” for the protest to send the “selected” PTI government packing through the “Azadi March”.

In the PML-N leaders’ meeting held in Model Town, Mr Shahbaz read out the contents of the party supremo’s letter and pledged to follow his instructions. However, party stalwarts Raja Zafarul Haq, Khawaja Asif, Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, Pervaiz Rashid, Murtaza Javed Abbasi and Mohammad Zubair, who had attended the Wednesday meeting, were conspicuous by their absence on Saturday.

Ms Aurangzeb told Dawn that most of the leaders who couldn’t attend the meeting were out of town. “Besides, this was not a larger meeting like Wednesday’s on the issue,” she reasoned, while regretting the reports that Mr Rashid had not been invited to it. “Pervaiz sahib is a senior leader and commands great respect in the party,” she said.

Key leaders skip party meeting as Shahbaz reads out letter; JUI-F chief to lead anti-govt march, says Ahsan

Sources believed that as the PML-N president was to only read out the letter and no consultation was required on the issue after the party supremo’s final word, the stalwarts did not want to cancel their engagements.

In Wednesday’s meeting, some senior leaders had voiced their opposition to joining the Maulana’s show for various reasons including what they called a change in the JUI-F plan from a sit-in in Islamabad till the fall of the Imran government to just anti-government march to the federal capital; lack of support from the ‘umpire’; chaos in Islamabad may benefit the ‘other player’; and in case of failure the show will cost the opposition, which is already under attack, dearly.

Even the PML-N president had reportedly supported these views as he is against the politics of agitation especially when it comes to the powerful establishment, but the party’s supreme leader Nawaz during a court appearance on Friday declared that the PML-N fully supported the Azadi march, clearing any misgivings about party’s stance on the anti-government protest.

After Saturday’s meeting, party’s secretary general Ahsan Iqbal said: “A PML-N delegation will meet Maulana Fazl on Sunday to share the strategy regarding Azadi march, devised by Nawaz Sharif in his letter to Shahbaz Sharif.”

He said there was a “complete roadmap in the letter by Mian sahib for PML-N’s participation in the protest”. He said the former prime minister had agreed with the objectives of the JUI-F march to rid the country of the “selected and incompetent government for its failure on all fronts, especially economic”.

“Since it is an initiative of the JUI-F chief, it is only fair that he leads the march. All opposition parties, including the PML-N and PPP, will formulate their strategies regarding the march in consultation with their party leadership,” he added.

Asked if Mr Shahbaz was reluctant to lead the march from the PML-N side due to his health issues, Mr Iqbal condemned the politicisation of the leader’s health. “This trend of politicising a genuine health issue of Shahbaz Sharif is a sad and inhumane practice,” he said recalling how the same had hurt the Sharif family when Begum Kulsoom Nawaz’s health was questioned.

Mr Iqbal dispelled the impression that there were any divisions within the party over the march.

Chiding Mr Khan over his claim that he would only focus on the country’s affairs in his first year in power, Mr Iqbal said: “Our Kashmiri brothers are becoming targets of bullets of the Indian Army while our prime minister is heading to mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia.” He said the people of Pakistan were suffering immensely but PM Khan had different priorities.

Published in Dawn, October 13th, 2019