Nawaz Sharif is still not forthcoming with his exact plan to ensure the prime minister leaves his office – but the chief of the main opposition party dropped some potent hints on Monday, among them a move to form a grand opposition alliance against the government.
In a press conference after chairing a joint meeting of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N)’s top leadership, including the Central Working Committee (CWC) and Parliamentary Party, Nawaz emphasised that pushing the prime minister to resign was the party’s ‘final decision’.
Nawaz added that the PML-N would contact Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), all the nationalist parties of Sindh and Balochistan and, most importantly, even the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI)– a rising party considered the PML-N’s chief political opponent. Interestingly, he also said that he would contact the ‘true successors of Benazir Bhutto’.
The PML-N president announced that a countrywide mass movement would be launched against the government if Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani did not step down after his conviction by the Supreme Court last week. The meeting of PML-N’s top leadership was convened in the capital on Monday to decide on the party’s line of action after the apex court convicted the prime minister in a contempt case.
“Obey the Supreme Court verdict. Abandon the premiership or face a protest movement,” Nawaz said, addressing Prime Minister Gilani. “This is the decision of the people of Pakistan and I announce it as the representative of the masses,” he added.
“It is a do or die situation… the whole thing will head that direction,” Nawaz remarked. commenting on the possibility of a long march.
However, Nawaz did not explicitly elaborate the modalities of his planned mass movement and, on a number of occasions, overtly deflected questions about it. He simply said that the PML-N would consider all options, including en mass resignation from Parliament and a long march.
Nor did he give any timeframe for either move. His party officials, however, said the PML-N has decided to use these options after exhausting all others, including strong protests in Parliament and on the streets.
Though there were no exact announcements, Nawaz’s press conference seems to have warned the government of what could be turbulent times in the already crises-ridden political arena.
Grand opposition alliances have historically been potent destabilising forces in the country when they hit the streets.
The Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) of the late ‘70s helped topple ZA Bhutto, the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD) had shaken then military ruler Gen Ziaul Haq in the ‘80s, while the notorious Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) of the early ‘90s played a big part in seeing Benazir Bhutto’s first government out of office, and then defeating it in the polls.
It remains to be seen if and when Nawaz makes a move in this direction against a well-entrenched Pakistan Peoples Party-led government, which has benefitted greatly from a fractured opposition.
On the other hand, the PTI’s reaction to working with the PML-N was lukewarm for the moment.
While they questioned Nawaz’s commitment to the cause, they did say a meeting would take place on Tuesday (today) to discuss how exactly the PTI would move forward to pressurise the government.
“Nawaz Sharif’s track record is a story of unfulfilled promises and false commitments as he let down fellow opposition parties on every occasion… so how can we trust him this time,” questioned Shafqat Mehmood, PTI’s information secretary and media manager.
“PTI’s top leadership is meeting tomorrow in Islamabad and we’ll chalk out our own strategy to pressurise the government to comply with the Supreme Court decision,” said Mehmood.
While the PTI and PML-N may be shying away from working with each other, a third party might step in with its willingness to work together.
Though JI’s spokesperson Ameerul Azeem told The Express Tribune from Lahore that the PML-N had not contacted them so far, he said that the JI was in favour of evolving cooperation among all political forces against the government. “In fact, we ourselves wanted to call an all-party conference or a gathering of groups,” he said.
Azeem said JI would be willing to cooperate. “Doesn’t matter who leads it. It is not important for us. The bottom line is we want a movement to bring down the government and we will positively respond to his initiative,” Ameer added.
“Appeal or no appeal, the matter of the fact is that the prime minister is a convict,” he remarked.
Another political force, however, was noncommittal – in its individual capacity, or as a part of a larger movement.
In their immediate reaction, a spokesperson for the JUI-F chief said, principally, the party did not want any confrontation between the government and the judiciary – but added that, in this particular case, a political decision “should not be taken in the dark.”
“I think there is still confusion in the prime minister’s contempt. The court has not explicitly said that he is disqualified,” said MPA Mufti Kafayatullah.
“And then also the government is planning to file an appeal. Let’s see what happens then. We are not in a hurry. We will decide our line of action when all these issues are settled.”
Published in The Express Tribune, May 1st, 2012.