ISLAMABAD, Oct 31: World Punjabi Congress chairman Fakhar Zaman on Wednesday urged the government to initiate a broad-based dialogue involving all political forces for a national consensus to reverse what he saw as Pakistan’s slide into “total confusion” and to confront extremism.

Mr Zaman, who is also a PPP leader, told a group of journalists that the whole nation stood on a “razor-edge” because of the prevailing uncertainty marked by a violent law and order situation and court battles and said President Pervez Musharraf should take “bold steps to get rid of (the ruling) PML-Q” that he accused of obstructing a transition to democracy.

“There is a need for a broad-based dialogue, which the government should have initiated soon after the return of (PPP chairperson) Benazir Bhutto (from eight-and-a-half-year of self- imposed exile),” he said. But instead, he added, the government persisted in partisanship for PML-Q and “slanderous” attacks on Ms Bhutto.

Mr Zaman said “Ziaist elements”, or followers of former military dictator Ziaul Haq, in the ruling party or those seeking to subvert peace moves with India could be responsible for the deadly October 18 assassination attempt on Ms Bhutto in Karachi as she drove in a procession on her return from exile.

“My personal point of view is that overall intelligentsia in Pakistan is very disturbed about the future of the country for which no direction is visible,” he said.

He said PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif should also be brought back from exile in Saudi Arabia for the sake of dialogue for a national consensus.

Talking about the current wave of suicide bombings across the country and militant insurgencies in tribal areas bordering Afghanistan and the district of Swat in the North West Frontier province, Mr Zaman said Pakistan “faces the greatest danger from extremism, not from the military” though “some elements” in the military could be behind the militant activity.

“The military and the people of Pakistan can together stop this menace of extremism,” he added.

Answering questions about the election prospects of different parties in Punjab in the coming elections, Mr Zaman called the PPP as the only party with roots all over the country and said it was expected to get “big numbers of votes” in free and fair elections, particularly in southern and central Punjab that could give it a majority in parliament.

But, Mr Zaman said, he was sure the PML-Q could not get that many seats in the province in free and fair elections. However, he said, the PML-N would get “some seats” in urban Punjab but not so many in the rural areas while the MMA alliance of religious parties was also not expected to get as many seats as in the October 2002 elections.