Pakistan Muslim League-N Information Sec, Ahsan Iqbal gestures during press conference at PML-N Secretariat in Islamabad on Wednesday, March 09, 2011. – Photo by PPI

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (N) on Wednesday said it considered the army and the judiciary major stakeholders in the country’s national affairs as it justified Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s controversial call for inviting representatives of the two institutions at a proposed all-party conference to prepare a broad-based national agenda to steer the country out of crisis.

“Since the country’s constitution has assigned roles to both the judiciary and the army, besides the executive, the call for inviting the army chief and the chief justice for consultation on national issues is not something extra-constitutional,” PML-N spokesman Ahsan Iqbal told a joint news conference with the party’s former information secretary, Siddiqul Farooque, and MNA Dr Tariq Fazal Chaudhry at the party’s central secretariat here.

The PML-N leaders announced that if the government did not stop recruitment in state-owned corporations on ‘political grounds’, their party’s parliamentarians would ‘gherao’ (besiege) these institutions.

The Punjab chief minister told journalists after inaugurating a three-day polio campaign in Lahore on Monday that the deteriorating situation in the country demanded that all stakeholders, including the political leadership, army and the judiciary, sat together and discussed the challenges facing the country.

He also said he had already contacted Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani “on the advice of (party chief) Nawaz Sharif to suggest to him to sit together with the army and the judiciary and discuss a strategy to steer the country out of the current situation”.

Wednesday’s news conference seemed aimed at countering criticism of Mr Sharif’s statement from the federally ruling Pakistan People’s Party and various sections of society and media, with some political observers terming the call as an open invitation to the army for a direct intervention in the country’s political matters.

But Mr Iqbal and Mr Farooque found it difficult to provide answers to some blunt questions. At one point, Mr Farooque went so defensive, saying Mr Sharif actually wanted to invite the army chief for a briefing on security issues facing the country. “There can be two sessions of (proposed) conference and the army chief and the chief justice could be asked to brief the political leadership in an in camera session,” he added.

Mr Iqbal said the PML-N wanted a “national agenda” to ensure good governance, elimination of corruption and improvement of the economy and wanted a “guarantee” that no institution would sabotage its implementation.

He said consultation with the army and the judiciary did not mean giving them a political role, although according to him, a contrary impression was being created by certain PPP members, including Law Minister Babar Awan.

In reply to a question, Mr Iqbal denied that his party had once again established contacts with the army and the so-called army-led establishment to come to power in the centre and said the PML-N was the country’s only party that had struggled for the independence of judiciary and elimination of military’s role in politics.

He said while all other parties, including the PPP, the ANP and the PML-Q, were willing to grant indemnity to former military ruler Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf for imposing his Nov 3, 2007, emergency that was later held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, it was the PML-N that opposed this idea tooth and nail.

In reply to another query, Mr Iqbal said unlike the Muttahida, his party was not calling for the imposition of martial law in the country. “We are not giving any call to patriotic army generals and inviting martial law,” he said, adding that “we want to get a guarantee from them (the army) that they will not undermine the national agenda”.

Mr Iqbal said Shahbaz Sharif had said what party chief Nawaz Sharif had already stated a few months back when he proposed signing a 25-year “charter of Pakistan”.