• Governance, economy, foreign policy issues discussed, participants sworn to secrecy
• Sana welcomes military’s decision ‘to stay out of politics’

LONDON: PML-N leaders remained tight-lipped about the major decisions taken at a high-level meeting with party supremo Nawaz Sharif on Thursday, though Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah later welcomed the military’s decision to stay out of politics, a position he said vindicated Mr Sharif’s stance.

A source present at the meeting said issues of governance, the financial situation of the country and foreign policy matters were discussed but that nothing can be divulged at this point.

The source said participants took an oath “not just once but twice” to ensure that the issues that came under discussion before Mian Nawaz Sharif would not be revealed outside under any circumstances.

Later, at a press conference outside Hasan Nawaz’s office, senior cabinet members Ahsan Iqbal and Rana Sanaullah spoke with reporters and said Nawaz was briefed about the economic crisis in the country, as well as the current polarised political climate and “anarchy” being created by former prime minister Imran Khan.

However, they did not share what policy direction was given by the party’s supreme leader during the meeting at Stanhope House in London and stressed that any decision taken would only be announced after consultation with the government’s coalition partners.

Though party insiders often share information on condition of anonymity, after this meeting they too insisted that it would not be right to reveal anything before it is jointly announced with coalition parties.

The last time this level of secrecy was maintained was when a PML-N delegation came to visit Nawaz Sharif in London ahead of the National Assembly’s vote on Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa’s extension.

On Dec 8, 2019, participants of the meeting at Avenfield House took an oath on the issue of the Army Act and that the party would support the extension legislation in principle. The party members agreed under oath that nothing discussed at the meeting would be revealed outside — similar to the pledge taken on Thursday at the meeting with Nawaz.

Read: Rare political accord on changes to Army Act

The emphasis on consensus with leaders of the coalition parties comes a day after contradicting statements were made by PML-N and PPP about the timing of elections, after which the former clarified that the parties were on the same page regarding elections.

It may be that any tough decisions that will be taken regarding the economic crisis in the country will be shared after the sign-off of coalition parties, and that cabinet ministers will keep their cards close to their chest till that time. The spiralling economic crisis, recent constitutional crisis and foreign policy challenges were the major issue that came under discussion.

Ahsan Iqbal said that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and a few cabinet members had come to London according to a plan made after the new government was formed but that their visit was delayed due to “the dire situation in the country that the new government inherited from the PTI”.

“Nawaz Sharif is the senior-most statesman in the country right now who has more experience than any of us. We came to take his advice and discuss with him how the country can be taken out of these multiple crises as soon as possible.”

He added, “This is a coalition government. We want to make decisions with coalition partners and after consensus. Our discussions [with Nawaz Sharif] will be shared with coalition partners as well.”

He hit out at Imran Khan for creating polarisation, “especially regarding the judiciary and the army” and also accused him of inciting civil war.

Rana Sanaullah, too, stressed that Nawaz Sharif’s policy line that was shared with the senior cabinet members would be made public once discussed with coalition partners.

He, too, lambasted Imran Khan and accused him of creating division and leading the country’s youth astray. “Nawaz Sharif educated us and guided us; we will implement the policy after discussion with coalition partners.”

He added that there would be zero tolerance for those who “subverted the Constitution”, and that the decision of whether to allow Khan to gather in Islamabad with his supporters would be taken by the cabinet.

“If the cabinet decides that he should not be allowed, then forget 20 lakh, even 20 people will not come.”

On the subject of elections, Rana Sana said the government would complete its constitutional term but repeated that this is not a decision for the PML-N but the coalition partners.

When asked to comment on the DG ISPR’s presser on the army’s role in politics, Rana Sana said, “Our position on this is exactly this, that institutions should not be involved in politics or be dragged into politics. It is very inspiring that courts and other institutions have at this moment played a role that is not political.”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif would stay in London for an extra day while all cabinet members would leave for Pakistan Friday morning.

Published in Dawn, May 13th, 2022

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