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Shahbaz ‘asked to join national govt’

January 13, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Jan 12: Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) head Shahbaz Sharif dashed to Islamabad on Saturday and returned to Lahore in the evening after holding separate meetings with an aide of President Pervez Musharraf, the Saudi ambassador and a former bureaucrat, sources told Dawn.

The sources said the PML-N president had met Brig (retd) Niaz Ahmad, who passed a message from President Musharraf on to Mr Sharif about the formation of a national government before the general election.

Sources in the PML-N said the president had suggested Shahbaz Sharif to become a part of the proposed government. The sources said the president had also proposed a “future role” for Shahbaz Sharif after the elections.

However, they added, Mr Shahbaz had told Mr Niaz that he would not reply to the proposals without consulting Nawaz Sharif.

The sources said it was the second meeting between Mr Sharif and Mr Niaz this week. Neither side would confirm or deny that they had met earlier.

They said Niaz Ahmad had requested the Sharif brothers to “soften the language” against the president at their public meetings.

Brig (retd) Niaz, a former instructor to President Musharraf, has been negotiating with the PML-N and the PPP leaders for the past several years and had held several meeting with the Sharif brothers in London and Saudi Arabia.

In the past, the PML-N had denied such contacts, but on Saturday a group of reporters caught Mr Sharif outside the Embassy Road residence of the retired brigadier when he was leaving the place after the meeting.

Talking to reporters, the PML-N president said his meeting with Brig Niaz should not be construed as a ‘political move’. He said he had come only to pay a “courtesy call”.

Mr Sharif said free and fair elections were unlikely as the government was making “every effort” to rig them by carrying out “massive transfers” of government officials after the announcement of the election schedule. He called for reconstitution of the Election Commission.

The sources said that Niaz Ahmad would leave for Britain in a couple of days on a private visit.

Earlier, a senior PML-N leader, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, ruled out at a press conference the possibility of his party becoming a part of a national government under President Musharraf, indicating that the party had officially received “some sort of a proposal along this line”.

Senator Tariq Azeem, a minister in the Shaukat Aziz-led cabinet, confirmed that the PML-Q had been weighing the pros and cons of a “national unity government” for some time. He, however, denied that the proposal was aimed at delaying the general election.

“The formation of a national government before the elections would allay fears of poll rigging.”

SAUDI AMBASSADOR: Shahbaz Sharif also met the Saudi ambassador in Islamabad, Ali Awadhi Al Asseri, and a former director-general of the Federal Investigation Agency, Wajahat Latif.

Party sources said Mr Sharif had met the ambassador to thank him for the hospitality extended to the Sharif family during its stay in Saudi Arabia.

About his meeting with Wajahat Latif, the PML-N leader said that he had come to meet him “only to offer my good wishes”.

Nawaz Sharif, who has been in Murree for the past three days, is expected to return to Lahore on Sunday as he is scheduled to meet Australian diplomats the next day.