LAHORE: After a much-awaited meeting with Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) chief Mau­lana Fazlur Rehman, Pakis­tan Muslim League-Nawaz president Shahbaz Sharif on Friday finally announced his party’s “full support and participation” in the JUI-F’s ‘Azadi March’ on Oct 31 in Islamabad.

“We will welcome the Maulana sahib in Islamabad on Oct 31 and present our demands in the public meeting there,” Shahbaz Sharif declared at a joint press conference along with the Maulana at his residence in Model Town here.

Mr Shahbaz said the PML-N had been given instructions by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif to participate in the JUI-F’s march as the whole country wanted to send the “selected PTI government” packing.

Mr Shahbaz, however, parried questions about his ‘poor’ health and ‘differences’ with his brother and the party’s supreme leader, Nawaz Sharif, over the PML-N’s ‘full participation’ in the march.

Fazl, Ahsan rule out talks with govt without PM’s resignation; Nawaz briefed on PML-N’s meeting with JUI-F

Briefing the media about his meeting with Maulana Fazl, the opposition leader in the National Assembly said: “We discussed the prevailing situation in the country, sinking economy, unprecedented inflation and price hike, dwindling investment, and its impact on the common man whose life has become miserable in the PTI regime.”

Holding Prime Minister Imran Khan and his team responsible for the country’s economic woes, Mr Shahbaz said despite having “full support of all institutions”, Mr Khan had failed to deliver. “The institutions supported Imran Khan hoping that the country will start progressing, but that never happened. Now Imran Khan is trying to shift the blame of his complete failure on the institutions,” he said. Had that kind of support been given to any other government, Pakistan would have been on the road to progress.

While demanding fresh elections, Mr Shahbaz said: “If the PML-N comes to power [after the polls], we will stabilise this ‘ruined economy’ within six months.”

“This government should be sent home at the earliest, followed by new elections,” he reiterated the demand before announcing that they would hold rallies on Oct 27 to express solidarity with the Kashmiris.

Maulana Fazlur Rehman thanked the former premier, PML-N president and other leaders for their support to the ‘Azadi March’.

“Today the PML-N decided in principle to participate in the march. The PML-N’s participation will consolidate our power. Oct 27 is a Kashmir solidarity day. Our caravans will leave on Oct 27 from across the country and reach Islamabad on Oct 31 for a final showdown.”

The JUI-F chief again rejected the PTI government’s offer to hold talks. “Hurling abuses and talks cannot go together. Without resignation of Imran Khan, we will not hold talks with the government,” he thundered.

In reply to a question about its rally or sit-in strategy, the JUI-F chief said: “We will make future decisions regarding our protest plan in consultation with the opposition parties.”

PML-N leaders Ahsan Iqbal, Rana Tanvir, Marriyum Aur­ang­zeb, Amir Muqam, Atta­ullah Tarar and Pervaiz Malik, while Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri and Maulana Amjad Khan from the JUI-F among others attended the meeting.

The JUI-F chief told them that he had been getting “phenomenal support” from all walks of life including that of traders, doctors, teachers and students for the protest march, said Ms Aurangzeb while speaking to Dawn following the meeting.

“Maulana sahib has also assured Shahbaz Sharif that all decisions will be taken unanimously with regard to the Azadi March,” she said.

PML-N secretary general Ahsan Iqbal said Gen Musharraf was revengeful against the PML-N but the intensity of hatred the PTI government was expressing (against PML-N) had never been witnessed before. Endorsing the stance of Maulana Fazl, Mr Iqbal said: “Without resignation of Imran Khan, talks on the Azadi March will not be held with the government,” he said, adding the opposition was unanimous to send the PTI government home.

Mr Tarar said instructions had already been issued to the party leaders and office-bearers to mobilise party workers for the march. “The party has decided to reach Islamabad on Oct 31 with full strength,” he added.

Later in the evening, Mr Shahbaz met ex-PM Nawaz at NAB’s Lahore office and briefed him on the PML-N meeting with Fazl and his team. A PML-N leader told Dawn, the party supremo had given clear instructions to the party leadership to mobilise workers and supporters and make the Oct 31 show successful.

Published in Dawn, October 19th, 2019