The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) on Tuesday postponed its long march planned for later this month, amid differences within the opposition alliance on the issue of resigning from the assemblies.
Addressing a press conference after an hours-long meeting of the PDM in Islamabad, its president Maulana Fazlur Rehman said nine PDM parties had agreed on the proposal to submit resignations along with the long march. However, the PPP had "reservations" over linking the resignations with the march and had sought time to hold consultations within its Central Executive Committee (CEC) before informing the PDM of its decision.
"We have given them the chance and we will await their decision. Until then, the March 26 long march will be considered postponed," Rehman said.
Rehman left the press conference abruptly following the announcement, and did not stop when PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz called him out to take questions.
Answering a question, Maryam said PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari during the meeting had asked PML-N supremo and her father Nawaz Sharif to return to Pakistan so that the opposition "could struggle together".
"In response, I told him with respect that bringing Mian Sahib back will be tantamount to handing his life over to murderers," Maryam said, adding that neither PML-N leaders nor the party's vote bank wanted to endanger his life.
"We want leaders to be alive, we don't want their bodies or their murder."
She said Nawaz had served the "longest" time in jail and returned to the country in 2018 to serve his prison sentence after leaving his wife on the death bed despite knowing it was a "concocted case". The government "panicked" and allowed him to go abroad when his life came under risk, Maryam claimed, adding that the former premier had not yet "recovered fully".
"The PML-N, its vote base and I being [his] daughter think no one has the right to call him back," said Maryam, who was flanked by PPP leader Yousuf Raza Gilani.
Gilani in his remarks said he had thanked the PDM leadership for jointly contesting the recent by-elections and Senate elections in which the opposition saw success.
He said the March 26 rally was "bracketed with resignations" and so the PPP requested the PDM leadership to give it some time for consultations on "the new scenario" because the CEC's first decision "was not in favour of resignations". He told a reporter the party would share its stance with the PDM "soon".
Asked whether the PDM had "ended practically", Maryam said: "PDM is standing in front of you. [...] We are also standing with each other and will cooperate."
Meanwhile, talking about today's PDM meeting, Nawaz told reporters in London that the long march "was set to be held on its time", but the PPP had sought time to discuss the resignations issue in its CEC due to "reasons you already know".
Nawaz was then asked by a reporter to comment on reports that Zardari had "entered into a deal with the establishment" to "deliberately slow down" the PDM's movement, and how he viewed Zardari's demand for his return. "[I] view these things in the same way that you are seeing them," the PML-N supremo replied.
Zardari asks Nawaz to return
Earlier, sources and media reports said Zardari during the meeting asked Nawaz to return to Pakistan before the joint opposition could go with the nuclear option of resigning from the assemblies in order to mount pressure on the PTI-led government.
The crucial session of the PDM was held amid divisions within the alliance over the issue of submitting resignations from the assemblies at a time when its planned long march was just two weeks away.
Zardari, who like Nawaz addressed the meeting virtually, reportedly told the PML-N chief: "Mian sahab, we will hand over the resignations to you when you return home."
Nawaz has been living in London since November 2019 after he was allowed to leave the country for medical treatment.
Zardari further said if Nawaz wanted the opposition parties to resign en masse, "then not only us, but everyone will have to go to jail".
Talking about this month's hotly contested Senate elections, Zardari said the opposition parties had challenged the government in the polls but regretted that PML-N Senator-elect Ishaq Dar, who is living in the UK in self-exile, had not participated in the voting, according to reports.
"Nawaz Sharif sahib, return to the country along with Ishaq Dar; we will fight together," the PPP leader was quoted as saying during the meeting.
When asked to comment on Zardari's remarks, PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb, without confirming or denying the reports, said they had been "leaked".
Nawaz's spokesperson Mohammad Zubair, meanwhile, told DawnNewsTV that Zardari's reported remarks had already been the PPP's party position, and the party had expressed similar views at a meeting of its CEC in Karachi in December.
According to reports, Zardari while talking about the Senate chairman election said this was not the first time that democratic forces had faced "rigging", adding that he spent 14 years of his life in jail.
He said the PDM would have to plan its long march in the same manner that the PPP had mobilised supporters across the country when former prime minister Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan in 1986 and 2007.
"If Nawaz Sharif is ready for the war then he will have to return to the country whether it is for the long march or a no-confidence motion," the former president was quoted as saying.
Zardari said he was "ready for the war" but that he did not have the appropriate domicile, and told Nawaz: "Mian sahib, you represent Punjab."
In response, Maryam reportedly asked Zardari how her father could return to the country when his "life is in danger".
Zardari "should give the guarantee that my father's life will not be at risk in Pakistan", she added, according to sources.
'It's all curtains for PDM'
Commenting on the disagreement among the opposition parties, federal minister Asad Umar tweeted: "Opposition's internal differences have come out in the open."
PTI Senator Faisal Javed, meanwhile, said today's developments showed "It's all curtains for PDM. It was made in 2020 and finished in 2020."
"Coalition of crooks tried their best to take NRO from PM Imran Khan but failed. Long march turns out to be a joke since people rejected them in all their rallies," he tweeted.
Science and Technology Minister Fawad Chaudhry reacted to the developments by sharing a tongue-in-cheek cropped video clip of Maryam in which she could be heard saying: "A fight has broken out within the PDM."
Sources in the opposition parties earlier told Dawn that the JUI-F and the PML-N had decided to insist on their proposal of submitting en-masse resignations from the assemblies during the meeting. On the other hand, the PPP after a series of in-house consultations and brainstorming sessions decided to oppose the idea at any cost.
The JUI-F believes that after losing the elections of Senate chairman and deputy chairman despite having a majority, it has become imminent for the opposition parties to come out of the assemblies. Moreover, sources said, the JUI-F leadership was of the view that the Senate polls had also proved that their move to bring a no-confidence motion against the National Assembly speaker or the prime minister would be a futile exercise.
The PPP, meanwhile, believes that the opposition has gained much ground and political space after the recent by-elections in the country, noting that the victory of Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani in the Senate elections caused a major dent in the ruling alliance. The PPP leaders believe that the by-polls and the Senate elections have strengthened the party position, therefore, the opposition should give a tough time to the government while staying in the assemblies instead of leaving the field open for the government.