Two camps emerge as coalition mulls talks with PTI

Published April 19, 2023
The combination photo shows (L-R) Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman. — DawnNewsTV
The combination photo shows (L-R) Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman. — DawnNewsTV

• PPP favours dialogue, JUI-F says no; Marriyum denies reports of ‘rift’
• Alliance resolves to stick to its guns over refusal to allocate funds for Punjab polls
• PM claims IMF deal in ‘final phase’, praises army chief and others for their efforts

ISLAMABAD: A meeting of the heads of ruling parties summoned by the prime minister to evolve a consensus on the issue of holding a dialogue with the PTI has seemingly split the alliance into two camps.

One side, led by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is said to be favouring of talks with the opposition party on the issue of national importance, whereas the JUI-F and Jamhoori Watan Party strongly oppose to the idea. The overtly hawkish PML-N, however, says it is “still holding consultations” regarding talks with the opposition.

Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, however, continued to blame the PTI chairman for a stalemate in the dialogue process. Speak­ing to journalist Talat Hussain, he said the former premier had categorically rejected their offer for dialogue in the past.

Information Minister Marri­yum Aurangzeb, however, told Dawn “consultations were in progress” within the party on the option of initiating talks with the PTI.

She also denied media reports that there was a difference of opinion within the coalition, saying that all decisions would be made after a consensus was reached. “Parties may have different opinions, but our decisions are made with consensus,” she added.

PPP favours talks

Sources said that during the meeting, PPP chief Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari reiterated his party’s stance that the government should hold talks with the PTI on issues of national importance and that shutting the door on dialogue was against democratic and political norms, as well as PPP’s principles. Mr Bhutto-Zardari was backed by BAP leader Khalid Magsi, Chaudhry Salik Hussain of PML-Q, and Mohsin Dawar in his demand.

JWP chief Shahzain Bugti, however, said he was not against talks with the PTI, but Imran Khan could not be trusted since he was a “liar”.

A source in the MQM-P said that the matter of initiating talks with the opposition PTI was very delicate and it should be decided by the heads of all coalition parties, as MQM-P convener Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui, JUI-F Fazlur Rehman and PML-Q president Chaudhry Shujaat were not present in the meeting held on Tuesday. “In principle, we support dialogue with every stakeholder but that doesn’t mean we have supported the PPP in their stance in today’s meeting,” the source said.

No post-facto approval

During the meeting, the issue of funds for elections also came up, and sources said that participants pointed out that when the government was refusing to release funds due to a financial crunch, how could it justify the allocation in a post-facto manner.

The coalition also vowed to uphold parliament’s decision regarding the non-allocation of Rs21 billion funds required for holding elections in Punjab as per the order of the apex court.

The meeting was also told that the bureaucracy was in a fix over whether to obey the government or face contempt of court, an insider said, claiming that the bureaucracy was reluctant to obey the court’s order because “it knew that incumbent Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial’s term as the CJP will be over in three months”.

At the meeting, the allies wondered why holding elections in KP within 90 days was not as necessary as in Punjab.

During the huddle, the ruling parties asserted they would complete their term — ending in October — in spite of all the odds.

Addressing his allies at the meeting, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif praised them for remaining united to face the challenges they had inherited from the PTI government. “In a democracy, the decisions were made through consultation, not imposition,” he added. Referring to the ongoing controversy regarding the court verdict on a bill to regulate the power of the chief justice, the premier said nowhere in the world did a court grant a stay on the implementation of a law even before its promulgation.

IMF deal in final phase

The premier also informed participants of the meeting that the International Monetary Fund’s agreement was in the final phase as their last condition was to arrange deposits to unlock the programme.

He also lauded the efforts of Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Army Chief General Asim Munir for the success of the process. “Our army chief has rendered a lot of efforts and faced difficulties,” he added.

Published in Dawn, April 19th, 2023

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