KARACHI/LAHORE: A day after ordering the expulsion of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) from the coalition government in Punjab, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) found itself hurtling towards renewed political recrimination with its former ally.
Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif fired the first salvo, launching a blistering attack on President Asif Ali Zardari for his policies against the Punjab government. The president, however, refused to be drawn into any direct confrontation, countering that his party would not indulge in “dirty politics” and would instead strengthen democracy through fair play.
On Saturday, Shahbaz advised Governor Sardar Latif Khosa to remove the seven PPP ministers from the provincial cabinet. He is reportedly planning to accommodate the ‘Unification Bloc’, which comprises dissident lawmakers from the PML-Q, in the cabinet.
The move elicited a caustic comment from the president though. “Some friends are trying to form a government with the help of turncoats,” he said during a meeting with PPP lawmakers from Sindh at the Bilawal House in Karachi.
Zardari said the PML-N has expelled ‘people’s representatives’ from the Punjab government with the help of some ‘turncoats’. “This shows who is using undemocratic tactics,” he said.
For his part, the president said he was against undemocratic means and vowed to disallow anyone from resorting to the same. He regretted what he called the “politics of Changa Manga’ but said that the PPP would defend democracy at all costs.
Zardari said the opposition’s dream of snap elections would never materialise and the PPP-led coalition government would complete its five-year constitutional term.
PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif had not ruled out the possibility of mid-term elections in Friday’s news conference, saying that “the demand for snap polls was not unconstitutional.”
Responding to the provocative statements of some PML-N leaders, President Zardari said that those trying to revive the politics of the ‘80s would fail in their designs.
He said the PPP would continue to follow the politics of reconciliation, as was envisioned by its slain chairperson Benazir Bhutto. He voiced hope that small issues with other political parties would be sorted out soon.
Earlier speaking at a function in Lahore, the Punjab chief minister claimed that supply of natural gas to his province has been suspended intentionally and the purpose was to malign the PML-N government in the province. But in the same breath he warned the president to stop this ‘drama’.
He alleged that the PPP-led federal government in the centre was instigating people to rise in protest against the provincial government by creating an artificial natural gas shortage in the province.
This, he said, would financially weaken the provincial government and increase unemployment in Punjab. But he warned that the centre would not escape its impact.
Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, who has often won over the Sharif brothers with his reconciliatory approach, poured scorn on Shahbaz’s claim.
According to him, he had asked the chief minister to take up the issue of gas load-shedding in the Council of Common Interest (CCI) but Sharif refused to do so. “I cannot change the existing laws which deal with such issues,” the premier told the media at his Lahore residence.
Chief Minister Shahbaz said that his brother PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif had given a 10-point reform agenda to the PPP-led government for eliminating corruption, ensuring good governance and stabilising democracy in the country.
But he regretted that the PPP did not respond positively to the PML-N agenda within 45 days as was demanded by Sharif. And the PPP’s ‘lukewarm’ response proved to be “the last nail in the coffin of Charter of Democracy (CoD)”.
In the CoD, signed by Nawaz and Ms Bhutto, the two parties had pledged to work together to stop future military intervention in the country.
Shahbaz criticised Sindh Home Minister Zulfikar Mirza for threatening to close down all PML-N offices in the province. Such ‘foul language’ was unbecoming of anyone with national thinking, he added.
Meanwhile, the elder Sharif toured Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa on Sunday to meet local leaders of his party in Dir, Chitral and Malakand divisions in a move to re-energise the party. He stressed the need for what he called a ‘revolutionary movement’ to steer the country out of crises.
Sharif said that he had led the long march for the restoration of dozens of judges sacked by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf because only an independent judiciary could rid the country of corruption.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 28th, 2011.
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