ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Peoples Party chief Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari welcomes PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif, vice president Maryam Nawaz, JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman and leaders of other parties.—Online
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Peoples Party chief Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari welcomes PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif, vice president Maryam Nawaz, JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman and leaders of other parties.—Online

• Almost all opposition parties join hands at MPC
• Moot decides on ‘action plan’ to oust Imran-led govt
• PML-N leader slams poll rigging, selective accountability
• Sees Asim Bajwa behind Balochistan govt’s ouster

ISLAMABAD: Breaking his over two-year-long silence, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supreme leader and deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif while addressing the much-awaited opposition’s multiparty conference via video link from London on Sunday alleged that there was “a state above the state in the country” and declared that the opposition’s struggle was not against Prime Minister Imran Khan but against “those who had imposed such an incapable person” upon the nation through a manipulated electoral process.

“Once perhaps former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gillani said there was a state within the state in the country which could not be tolerated. It is saddening that the situation has escalated to the level where we now have a state above the state. This parallel government illness is the root-cause of our problems,” said an apparently healthy-looking Sharif in his hard-hitting opening speech at the conference.

Giving a formal shape to their alliance with the name of Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) and demanding resignation of Prime Minister Imran Khan, the country’s major opposition parties at the MPC, which was hosted by the Pakistan Peoples Party, announced launching of a three-phased anti-government movement under an “action plan” starting from next month with countrywide public meetings, protest demonstrations and rallies in December and a “decisive long march” towards Islamabad in January 2021.

At the conference, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (Fazl) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman read out a 26-point declaration in the form of a resolution containing various demands, including “end of establishment’s interference in politics, new free and fair elections after formulation of election reforms with no role of armed forces and intelligence agencies, release of political prisoners, withdrawal of cases against journalists, implementation of the National Action Plan against terrorism, speeding up of the projects under China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and across-the-board accountability under a new accountability law”.

Almost all leaders of the opposition parties had joined hands at the MPC, where fiery speeches were made and the strongly-worded resolution was passed. Despite a government warning, the speech of the PML-N supreme leader was telecast live by almost all TV channels.

In an hour-long address, the ex-premier said: “Either we have martial laws in the country or a strong parallel government is created whenever we have a civilian government. Our foremost priority is to get rid of this non-representative, incapable and selected government. And more important for us is to get rid of this system which is targeting the people, the opposition and even the judges of good repute,” said Mr Sharif while urging the participants of the MPC to suggest a “comprehensive plan for ensuring supremacy of the Constitution and respect to vote, besides resolving the basic issue of parallel government” in Pakistan.

He also asked them to strive for making the Hamoodur Rehman Commission’s recommendations public.

“If change is not brought, it will bring irreversible loss to this country,” he warned while asking the opposition leaders to “make decisions fearlessly to protect democracy”. He assured other participants of the moot that PML-N, the main opposition party in the National Assembly, would fully support and implement the MPC’s decisions.

He said frequent military interventions were responsible for the country’s problems. “It is very important that our armed forces stay away from our governmental system according to our Constitution and the Quaid’s speech, and not interfere with the people’s choice,” he remarked.

“Pakistan has been constantly deprived of a democratic system [...] When the vote is dishonoured, the entire democratic system becomes meaningless. When it is decided before the election process as to who will win and who will lose, it can be guessed how the public is betrayed and how the public mandate is stolen,” the deposed premier said, explaining that no PM had ever completed five years in power. He said every democratically elected government was removed through conspiracies and by “establishing a much stronger parallel government”. Article 6 was included in the 1973 Constitution “to stop the army generals from adventurism” yet the country lost another 20 years under “generals’ dictatorship”, he said.

The PML-N supremo said even a special court was declared unconstitutional when it summoned and convicted a dictator for suspending the Constitution. He also blamed the judiciary for validating military takeovers and giving the dictators the right to play with the Constitution. However, he praised Supreme Court judge Qazi Faez Isa and former Islamabad High Court judge Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui and called for reviewing the statement made by the latter under oath. He said instead of looking for honest and upright judges, those judges were searched who expressed their willingness to accept all “their demands” and who promoted “doctrine of necessity”.

He regretted that those elected with people’s votes were either “murdered, hanged, declared thieves and traitors or sent in exile and disqualified for lifetime”. Elected public representatives were still facing courts with their daughters and sisters, he said.

Rigging, selective accountability

The PML-N supremo recalled as to how in October 2016 through a “propaganda campaign” he and his government were declared “anti-state” after a news report, later dubbed as “Dawn Leaks”, had been published. A joint investigation team comprising officials of “[secret] agencies” was constituted but it failed to prove the charge.

Referring to the reported offshore businesses and assets of PM’s aide retired Lt Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa and his family, the ex-PM said no one had the courage to ask him as to how he had accumulated the assets during his service. He said: “[Mainstream] media was silent. NAB remained unmoved. No court took [suo motu] notice. No JIT was formed. No monitoring judge was appointed,” instead the prime minister hurried to issue him a “certificate of honesty”.

Levelling another serious allegation against him, the PML-N supremo alleged that Mr Bajwa was behind the conspiracy for Balochistan government’s removal before the Senate elections in 2018 when he was posted in the province.

About the 2018 general elections, the PML-N leader said those who “hijacked the people’s mandate by putting inexperienced people in power” were responsible for the problems faced by the country. “Can I ask why the RTS [Results Transmission System] remained suspended for hours during the elections? Why were polling agents thrown out [of polling stations] during vote count? Why was rigging done and on whose directives?” he questioned, before demanding that the then Chief Election Commissioner and secretary of Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and all those responsible for the “rigging” be made answerable.

Hitting out at ‘selective accountability’ by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and its chairman Javed Iqbal, the opposition party’s supremo said his government committed a mistake by not abolishing the bureau that had been created by a military dictator. In fact, he said, the elected representatives were not expecting this institution would come down to that level after the leaked tapes of NAB’s chairman. He said no one ever had asked him any question about those tapes.

He alleged that Prime Minister Imran Khan’s sister Aleema Khan also had foreign assets but NAB had no courage to hold detailed investigations. Also, Mr Khan had paid nearly Rs283,000 tax, but no one asked him as to how he was meeting millions of rupees expenses at his Lahore’s Zaman Park residence, he said.

Foreign affairs

Expressing concerns over the government’s steps to “gag” media and the incidents of “picking up of journalists through official agencies”, the PML-N leader blasted the PTI government policies on all fronts and held the rulers responsible for price hike, food crises, muzzling of the media, “corruption within the PTI ranks”, the “poor state” of Pakistan’s economy and deteriorating international relations. He said the government was hatching a conspiracy against China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), alleging that the PTI rulers were treating the CPEC just as they had treated the Peshawar BRT project. He claimed Pakistan was facing international isolation and held the government responsible for it.

“Seeing an unpopular, non-representative and puppet government in Pakistan, India made Kashmir its part and we cannot even protest,” he said.

The PML-N leader also criticised Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi for his controversial statement about the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Democratic norms

Earlier, Pakistan Peoples Party leader Asif Zardari also delivered a speech through video link and said the success of the multiparty conference was evident by the tactics being used by the government to suppress their voice. He said the opposition parties tried hard to save democracy over the past two years, but the government did not seem interested in restoring democratic norms and institutions.

“The pygmies and selected do not have any regard for the constitution but this constitution was drafted by very visionary and farsighted people and the 18th Amendment is a measure to restore the 1973 Constitution,” he said, adding that he might be the first man to go to jail after his speech.

Looking frail due to his illness, the former president prayed for the health of Nawaz Sharif while welcoming his daughter Maryam Nawaz in the multiparty conference. He said she also faced difficulties, including imprisonment, like his sister Faryal Talpur and wife Shaheed Benazir Bhutto.

As host and organiser of the MPC, the PPP had made special arrangements for telecasting the opening speeches of the leaders through live streaming on social media websites. Besides Mr Sharif’s fiery speech, the addresses of PPP leader Asif Zardari and chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif were also telecast live through the link.

Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2020