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ARD public moot on Balochistan today

September 10, 2006

LAHORE, Sept 9: All arrangements have been completed by the 16-party Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy for a public meeting at the spacious Minar-i-Pakistan on Sunday (today), mainly to express solidarity with the people of Balochistan, a province in the grip of increased tensions after the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti.

Punjab PPP President Qasim Zia and ARD Secretary-General Iqbal Zafar Jhagra separately visited the venue and expressed their satisfaction over the arrangements. Flags and banners of the PPP and the PML-N, two major components of the coalition, were seen all around.

Makhddom Amin Fahim, Raja Zafarul Haq, Nawabzada Mansoor Khan and top leaders of the alliance parties will be among the speakers. MMA leaders Qazi Husain Ahmed, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Hafiz Husain Ahmed and Liaquat Baloch, BNP leader Rauf Mengal and leaders of some other parties outside the ARD-MMA fold will also be the ‘guest speakers’.

ARD leaders believe that they will be able to put up a big show as people from other cities will also be participating.

The opposition’s earlier call for a strike to protest the killing of the former Balochistan governor and chief minister had failed to get adequate response from Punjab. Similarly, the absentia funeral prayers for the slain leader were attended only by a few dozen people of the provincial capital.

An informal meeting of the ARD leaders at the PDP secretariat here on Saturday discussed matters concerning the Sunday meeting. Another meeting will be held on Sunday morning for the same purpose. The participants will also decide whether some resolutions should also be got approved at the public meeting.

According to Mr Jhagra, former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Mian Nawaz Sharif are expected to address the participants by phone.

An ARD delegation will go to Quetta on Monday to offer condolences over the death of Bugti. Then, a public meeting will be held at the Balochistan capital on Sept 18, instead of 17th, as was decided earlier.

Although the purpose of the Sunday public meeting is to send a “Punjab is with you” message to the grieving people of Balochistan, a bill moved by the ruling party to protect the rights of women has relegated the initiative to a secondary position.

The ruling PML has chosen this time to move the bill - to amend the Hudood laws enforced some 28 years ago — to drive a wedge between the two alliances and cause differences between the PPP and the PML-N.

Over the past few days, the bill has been the main subject of discussions rather than the Balochistan situation.

Interestingly, the MMA has lately decided to link its legislators’ resignations from the assemblies to the passage of the controversial bill, which shows a shift in its earlier stand.

Parties in the ARD differ on the issue of tendering resignations. While PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif is advising the coalition parties to quit the assemblies without delay, as the situation would worsen with every passing day, the PPP seems in no hurry.

Ms Benazir Bhutto is monitoring the situation very carefully and she will submit the resignations of her party lawmakers - which have already been submitted to her - at an appropriate time.

Surprisingly, there has been no qualitative change in the situation since the July 2 ARD meeting held in London in the presence of both Ms Bhutto and Mr Sharif.

One of the seven resolutions passed by the participants had urged all moderate and democratic political forces to forge an alliance, irrespective of their party positions on various issues to exert pressure on Gen Musharraf to resign for refusing to restore democracy; to be ready to resign from the assemblies, in consultation with other opposition parties, should Gen Musharraf seek to get himself re-elected from the present assemblies; to call for the formation of a government of national consensus to hold free, fair and honest elections within 90 days; and to wage a decisive struggle inside and outside parliament for the achievement of these objectives.

An alliance proposed in the resolution is nowhere to be seen. The ARD and the MMA remain poles apart despite the fact that their leaders are seen together and they criticise the government jointly. The PPP does not like to be seen with what is called a group of religious fundamentalists.

PPP leader Makhdoom Amin Fahim said recently that no proposal was under consideration to set up a grand opposition alliance, although the ARD and the MMA will work together from their respective platforms.

Iqbal Zafar Jhagra indicated on Saturday that an all-party conference could be called abroad in the presence of Ms Bhutto and Mr Sharif to take a decision on a grand alliance.