• Seeks cooperation among religious, political forces
• PTI refuses to attend MPC, decries crackdown
• Shehbaz regrets those who ‘brought back militants’ not willing to work together

PESHAWAR / LAHORE: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has called for national unity in the fight against militancy, stressing that political leadership and religious notables must unite to overcome the “new wave of terrorism”.

“We will never be able to fight [against militancy] without unity,” he told an apex committee meeting comprising political and military leaders, who gathered in Peshawar to discuss the matter and vowed to eradicate terrorism.

An action against militants was the need of the hour, and “if we don’t act now, history will not forgive us”, the premier said at the meeting, which was not attended by the main opposition PTI despite an invitation.

The PTI has said its chairman Imran Khan will also not attend a multi-party conference (MPC) convened by PM Shehbaz on Feb 7 to discuss militancy and other challenges facing the country.

The Friday’s meeting — attended by Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen Asim Munir — was held four days after a suicide attack inside a mosque at Peshawar’s police headquarters killed more than 100 people, mostly police personnel, and injured 221 others.

Among other attendees were the chief ministers of Sindh, Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan, caretaker chief ministers of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the president of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, the KP police chief, and several other federal ministers and representatives of political parties.

The prime minister, who chaired the meeting, stressed that political and religious differences must be shunned as the nation faced a “make-or-break moment”.

He recalled a similar resolve seen after the Army Public School attack in 2014, following which the military launched Zarb-i-Azb and Raddul Fasaad offensive against militants.

Without naming the PTI, the prime minister lamented that militants were “brought here to be settled”, but they were not willing to work together for the country’s future.

Noting that the federal government had been criticised for not supporting KP after militant attacks in Nowshera, Bannu and Peshawar, the premier said the federal government had released Rs417 billion to KP since 2010 and questioned where the amount was spent.

In a statement issued after the meeting, the premier expressed solidarity with the families of those who lost their lives in the Peshawar attack and announced compensation money of Rs2 million for each martyred and Rs500,000 for the injured on behalf of the federal government.

COAS visits blast site

Separately, COAS Gen Munir visited the site of Peshawar’s Police Lines blast on Thursday and met police officers and men. He appreciated the bravery and contribution of KP police and law enforcement agencies in the war against terrorism.

“We as a nation together will root out this menace of terrorism till enduring peace and we shall achieve this,” he said.

On Thursday, KP Police Chief Moazzam Jah Ansari also vowed to avenge the death of the martyred police personnel, saying that law enforcement agencies were closing in on the militant network behind the attack.

Govt ‘must review attitude’

Meanwhile, former speaker and PTI leader Asad Qaiser said in a video shared on Twitter that the party was ready to sit, but the government must review its attitude and stop the crackdown on the opposition — a reference to the cases being filed against the PTI leadership.

Insisting that the PTI government, during its four-year tenure that lasted until April 2022, had controlled the menace of militancy, Mr Qaiser asked: “How many explosions took place during our government? How many drone strikes and suicide attacks took place?”

He claimed that KP’s funds had been stopped and the federal government had owed Rs230bn to the province until Jan 5.

Imran berates Shehbaz

In Lahore, PTI Secretary General Asad Umar told reporters the party wouldn’t attend the MPC.

“How can we sit with the government when it is violating the Constitution, lodging sedition cases against the party leaders and workers and arresting our people?” he wondered. “We are telling point blank that the PTI would not attend the conference.”

Mr Umar was speaking to the media outside the Lahore High Court (LHC), where he and other leaders of the party had come to attend the hearing regarding the election date in Punjab.

In a press statement, Imran Khan also berated PM Shehbaz and said he would not recognise an “imported government”, which he said was destroying the economy and democracy with “brazen fascism”.

“How can Shehbaz Sharif be so insensitive and [destroy] economy and democracy in his 10-month rule? Along with economic destruction, he is also violating fundamental rights of people and the rule of law and allowing terrorism to spread under his watch,” Mr Khan said.

Court intervention in polls

On by-polls in Punjab, Asad Umar told reporters that if the government or governors did not announce dates, courts could instruct the president to do the same.

“The court has sought replies from the government and governors next Thursday and the matter should end there because the Constitution is very clear in holding elections within 90 days,” Mr Umar said.

The Election Commission had already said that polls could be held any day between April 9 and April 13, he said.

Published in Dawn, February 4th, 2023

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