• US ambassador Blome calls on Nawaz and Tareen in Lahore, Gilani in Multan
• UK’s Marriott meets Zardari in Karachi to gauge PPP’s worries over elections

KARACHI / LAHORE: In a flurry of meetings on Saturday, the envoys of the United King­dom and the United States have called on leaders of various political parties, including the PPP and PML-N, ostensibly to seek their input about the prospects for polls and their concerns about electioneering.

With the date proposed for the general elections just two months away, US envoy Donald Blome spent a busy day in Pun­jab: after a meeting with PPP leader Yousaf Raza Gilani and a host of political leaders at a gathering in Multan, he headed to Lahore to meet former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and Istehkam-i-Pakistan Party leader Jahangir Khan Tareen.

On the other hand, UK High Commissioner Jane Marriott met PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari at Bilawal House in Karachi days after a similar meeting with Mr Sharif in Lahore. A party statement issued after the meeting said that Mr Zardari and Ms Marriott, accompanied by their aides, held a detailed discussion on a “range of issues”.

The PPP leader also emphasised the need for Bri­tain’s role in bringing an end to the Israeli aggression in Gaza. The meeting, which lasted over an hour, was also attended by PPP’s Saleem Mandviwalla and former federal minister Dr Asim Hussain.

Sources privy to details of the discussion claimed that the British envoy was keen to gauge the PPP’s confidence about the prospects of polls on Feb 8. Another point of interest for the foreign delegates, they said, was to know the party’s strategy for the upcoming national elections.

“President Zardari did not express any doubt about the Feb 8 polls because he believes that there is no other option left to run the country and the state affairs,” said a party leader.

“The PPP has made it almost public that it would not go for any formal or major alliance … but seat adjustment and deals with other contestants can be considered depending on the position of [political] parties in different constituencies.”

The PPP leader, however, shared his party’s concerns with the UK diplomat about level playing field in the run-up to polls. “I mean, he conveyed his feelings and thoughts within the party ranks about how one party [PML-N] is already seen coming into power months before the polls. The indicators and sentiments do not support the claims of level playing field,” the source said.

Blome-Gilani meeting

Similar concerns were raised by the PPP’s Gliani in his meeting with the US envoy in Multan, who discussed the political landscape of south Punjab with respect to the upcoming polls.

Mr Gilani, who is the parliamentary leader of the PPP in the Senate, said a detailed discussion about the political landscape of South Punjab in the election 2024 was held.

The two sides expressed a desire to enhance bilateral ties between the US and Pakistan and also discussed Pakistan’s commitment to regional peace and economic ties.

The US ambassador’s meeting with political players is seen as a ‘normal practice’ of envoys to engage with stakeholders ahead of the general elections to hear their concerns regarding the impartiality of the polls.

Speaking about the meeting, IPP Information Secretary Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan told Dawn that the US wanted a “peaceful and stable” Pakistan for stability in the region.

“The issue of level playing field also came up during the discussion with Mr Blome. We told the envoy that every party asserts itself to level out the field instead of complaining about it,” she said.

Meeting with Nawaz

In his meeting with the US envoy, Nawaz Sharif shared his views on the political and economic situation, particularly in the context of his party’s preparations for the upcoming elections, said a statement issued by the PML-N.

Mr Sharif expressed confidence that the people of Pakistan would once again repose their trust in PML-N to lead the country out of the myriad problems confronting it today. “Both leaders acknowledged the importance of steadfast and sturdy partnership between the two countries.”

They recognised the importance of exploring avenues to boost cooperation and building on the successful outcomes that underpin the robust US-Pakistan bilateral relationship,“ it said.

Mr Sharif expressed concern at the plight of innocent Palestinians who were being mercilessly killed by the indiscriminate Israeli bombardment and imposition of siege around Gaza.

He called for an immediate end to hostilities and urgent provision of humanitarian and medical assistance to the Palestinians.

The US embassy, after Ambassador Blome’s meetings, said on Saturday that “in the course of his engagements with a broad range of Pakistani political actors,” the ambassador met in Multan with representatives of various political parties at a gathering hosted by former prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, and in Lahore with former premier Nawaz Sharif and IPP founder Jahangir Khan Tareen.

“They discussed the importance of free, fair elections and the right of the Pakistani people to choose their future leaders. They also discussed the strengths of the US-Pakistan trade and investment relationship and the development of the US-Pakistan ‘Green Alliance’ framework,” it said.

Earlier, Mr Blome was in the news after he called on Chief Election Commissioner Sikander Sultan Raja to reaffirm the US support for free elections conducted “under the law and Constitution”.

Meanwhile, the PTI also issued a strongly worded statement on the political meetings, terming the latest huddle a clear interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs.

Published in Dawn, November 19th, 2023



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