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Motives behind the proposed multi-party conference

July 26, 2012


National Assembly view. — File photo

ISLAMABAD: Of all the political parties, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement has become the face for the national-level All Parties Conference (APC). Even though the idea was first floated by Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, it is the MQM leaders who have been actively reaching out to heads of other political parties for a consensus agenda and the date to hold the meeting.

So far the MQM has managed to talk to political parties sitting in the coalition – except Sheikh Rashid of the Awami Muslim League who is running his own one-man show after splitting from the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid – and has also met Jamaat-i-Islami leaders.

The last APC was held on September 29, 2011, when former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had invited right, left and liberal parties to develop a national strategy on the ‘war on terror’. After being huddled for a few hours, the parties decided to give ‘peace a chance’ in tribal areas of the country, and the rest is history.

Hence, the timing of this particular APC to discuss the internal and external issues facing the country has everyone questioning the motives behind it: are political parties really worried about restiveness gripping the country and want to close their ranks against some third party intervention? Or is this just another exercise that would generate media hype but fail to deliver a concrete outcome?

When the same queries about political reconciliation were posed to sitting legislators and office-bearers of political parties, everyone had a different theory to offer.

According to a Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) office-bearer, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) is using MQM as a decoy to occupy the higher moral ground by talking of co-existence and reconciliation in the country.

“The PPP has gotten into a head-on confrontation with the judiciary and no stone has been left unturned to undermine the Supreme Court.

At the same time, it wants to give an impression that it is willing to compromise and share a harmonious relationship with other parties.

Given that President Zardari is a very shrewd politician, this “political reconciliation” will only put more pressure on the judges,” he contended.

On the other hand, when it came to the role of the MQM, the PML-N office bearer opined that the party has its own axe to grind.

“For quite some time the MQM has been trying to be a popular political entity on the national political arena and this is one way of furthering that agenda by leading reconciliatory effort,” he said.

“MQM has also been building support for allocation of reserved seats for Pakistanis keeping dual nationalities.”

When Dawn approached a senior PML-Q leader, he offered a rather diplomatic viewpoint.

“This is an encouraging development and shows that political parties despite having serious reservations against each other are willing to communicate,” he said, “till a couple of months, there was a complete impasse between the MQM and Awami National Party (ANP) as they hurled accusations openly for target killings in Karachi. But, now they are not only talking but also visiting each other’s party headquarters.”

He added that this was not the case with the PML-N and PPP who despite their very public showdowns have kept all channels of communication open, and he believes that is a good omen for democracy.

However, that the PPP is a key player behind the recent developments is buttressed by the statements of a senior PPP leader that he made in a conversation with this scribe.

“President Zardari strongly believes that the days of one party ruling over the country are over, as no party is in a position to muster enough seats to have a simple majority in the house, let alone two-third majority. Thus, the rule of thumb for the PPP is to keep its coalition partners intact, and if the need arises, rope in more,” he claimed.

He then proceeded to add: “Right now PPP is the majority party of the country, having the maximum number of seats in the parliament and presence throughout the country. But you will never ever hear any of its leaders talk about sweeping elections. They always talk about formation of coalitions.”

When questioned about the role that Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) would play, the PPP leader replied: “Both Imran Khan of the PTI and Mian Nawaz Sharif keep harping about how their parties would sweep the next general elections, but the fact is that behind the scenes they are desperately trying to get popular ‘electable’ candidates for their parties.”

Clearly, himself, a strong subscriber to the views of the president, the PPP leader concluded the conversation by saying: “I won’t be surprised if after the 2013 general elections once again the PPP and PML-N joined hands to form the government in the centre and province of Punjab.”