LAHORE: After Asif Zardari’s proposal that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif should initiate ‘unconditional’ talks with the opposition PTI, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Thursday formed a three-member body to persuade allies in the government to start the process with the Imran-led party.

According to a PPP statement, Senator Yousuf Raza Gillani, Federal Minister for Commerce Syed Naveed Qamar and PM’s Adviser on Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan Qamar Zaman Kaira will “engage with allies in the coalition government to reach consensus on dialogue with all political parties”.

The main task of the three PPP leaders is to persuade the PML-N and JUI-F to hold talks with PTI on all issues, including elections, to end the ongoing crises.

Talking to Dawn, Mr Kaira said PPP is primarily concerned about “deadlock” among the political players.

Three-member body faces uphill task of persuading PML-N, JUI-F to sit down with opposition party

“First, we will speak to our allies and try to convince them on holding talks with the opposition. Once we succeed in it then we will talk to the PTI to respond to the government’s offer of dialogue,” Mr Kaira said.

When asked if PML-N was reluctant to sit with PTI, Mr Kaira said: “PM Shehbaz had earlier offered PTI chief Imran Khan to sign the charter of economy. It was because of Mr Khan’s response to that offer which made the PML-N leadership bitter.”

Asked if the establishment is playing any role to bring the government and opposition on the table, Mr Kaira said: “I would say that we don’t have the blessings of the establishment but every saner element would like to see dialogue between the government and the opposition so that the ongoing crises come to an end.”

However, the Sharifs do not want elections in Punjab on the Supreme Court’s order and therefore see no point in holding talks with PTI.

PPP’s senior leader from south Punjab Haider Zaman Qureshi told Dawn his party believes that if mandated it can play a positive role in convincing all players to sit together and sort out all thorny issues relating to elections and economy.

In a recent development, ousted prime minister Imran Khan has shunned his ‘hard stance’ of not sitting with what he calls “thieves”, saying he is willing to hold talks, including with the establishment, on the issue of elections.

It was after Mr Khan’s green signal that PTI leader and former National Assembly speaker Asad Qaiser declared his party was ready to go for a one-time constitutional amendment to hold polls in October, 2023.

“Imran Khan’s disqualification and return of PML-N supreme leader Nawaz Sharif and nothing short of it will be acceptable to us before polls. After that, doors to talks [with PTI] will be open,” a senior PML-N leader from Punjab told Dawn, requesting anonymity.

“Holding talks with Mr Khan means conceding to his demand for elections. Even in October [polls] do not suit us in the current scheme of things. So let the PTI wait for an appropriate time for talks.”

Federal Minister Javed Latif said: “How come we go into elections if our leader — Nawaz Sharif — is not allowed to return. There should be a level playing field for the elections and let him come before the polls,” said Mr Latif.

Talking to Dawn, senior analyst Dr Hasan Askari commented that Nawaz Sharif and JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman have taken a “very hard line” of not sitting with PTI.

“The military and bureaucracy go by the book. They can’t negate the apex court’s order,” he pointed out, adding PM Shehbaz must be mindful of the fact that he might have to pay a heavy price for not complying with the SC’s decision to hold polls in Punjab next month.

Published in Dawn, April 14th, 2023

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