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PPP leader Syed Khursheed Shah. — Photo by Online/File

ISLAMABAD: The opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz publicly denies holding talks with the government on a future interim set-up, but privately its leaders confirm that Senator Ishaq Dar is engaged in serious negotiations with the PPP and the third round of their talks is scheduled for Tuesday.

Sources in both the parties told Dawn that a PPP team headed by Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Syed Khurhsid Shah, who has been given the task by the party leadership to engage with the PML-N, was scheduled to visit the spacious Punjab House in Islamabad on Tuesday evening for talks on a three-point agenda — a caretaker government to hold general elections, formation of a national commission on new provinces and the controversial accountability law which has been hanging in the air for more than three years because of a standoff between the two parties on certain issues.

Meanwhile, Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan who has denied and is said to against holding talks with the government is carrying on his own consultation with other political parties, particularly those outside parliament, on the names he has proposed for the caretaker prime minister.

The PPP sources said Defence Minister Syed Naveed Qamar was assisting Mr Shah in the talks. And according to the PML-N sources, Sardar Mahtab Ahmed Khan and Khawaja Mohammad Asif will be part of the PML-N team, headed by Mr Dar, in the Tuesday meeting. The PML-N which has rejected the recently-formed Parliamentary Commission on New Provinces in Punjab wants more representation in it. It is of the opinion that if the proposed commission is meant only for the creation of two new provinces in Punjab, the PML-N being the single largest party in the province must have 50 per cent representation. The party has also objected to the inclusion members of those parties which have no representation in Punjab.

The PML-N says it wants the government to form a national commission which should discuss creation of new federating units in other provinces as well, particularly in areas where local people have been campaigning for it, like Bahawalpur province (in south Punjab), Hazara province (in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and new provinces in Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).

The formal offer for talks on the issue of caretaker set-up was made to the opposition by Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf in his speech on the Independence Day last month.

The Prime Minister’s Secretariat later issued a handout saying that Mr Ashraf had called Chaudhry Nisar and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to exchange Independence Day greetings. It further said the prime minister was contacting important political leaders as part of an initiative to maintain a congenial environment because the nation was approaching general elections so that they were held in a free, fair and impartial manner.

But the offer was summarily rejected by Chaudhry Nisar the following day. He said such a dialogue was unnecessary and not required under the Constitution after the passage of the 20th Amendment.

Last week Chaudhry Nisar announced that his party had shortlisted nine names to head the caretaker government and these would be disclosed only after consultations with other opposition parties, including Jamaat-i-Islami, Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf and nationalist parties.

He said none of the shortlisted persons belonged to Punjab and there was no retired bureaucrat or general among them. Rather, he said, the list comprised retired judges, senior lawyers and politicians of good repute.

Talking to Dawn in his Parliament House chamber on Monday, Chaudhry Nisar reiterated that there was no need for talks with the government on any issue. He said he would soon complete the process of consultation with political parties and disclose the names he and his party had shortlisted for the post of caretaker prime minister for a public debate.

The PML-N stalwart said that constitutionally there was no need for talks between the government and the opposition on the issue of caretaker government. Only the prime minister was required to consult the opposition leader on the names of the caretaker prime minister and if they failed to agree on one name they would suggest two names each and the matter would be eventually decided by the Election Commission, he added.

When asked about the status of talks Senator Dar was holding with the government, Chaudhry Nisar said meetings over a cup of tea could not be described as formal talks. Secondly, he said, under the Constitution it was his responsibility to suggest the name for the post of caretaker prime minister to the government. “As long as I am the opposition leader, no formal talks with the government will take place,” he said in a categorical terms.

He alleged that the PPP had not yet fulfilled the commitments it had made with the PML-N at the time of the passage of the 20th Amendment. The PPP had not fulfilled its promise of appointing opposition leaders in the Balochistan and Sindh assemblies and, therefore, how could it form caretaker governments in the two provinces, he said.

Chaudhry Nisar said the NA speaker had no authority to constitute any commission on dividing a province. The speaker, he said, could form a national commission to look into the possibility of carving out new provinces throughout the country.

MEETING: PML-N president Nawaz Sharif presided over on Monday a meeting of the party’s senior leaders in the picturesque hill station of Murree. The participants expressed their concern over the recent incidents of sectarian killings in the country and law and order problems in Karachi and Balochistan.