Key allies of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party have urged the government to negotiate with Minhajul Quran International chief Tahirul Qadri, who is scheduled to lead a “million-man march” through Islamabad on January 14.
Sources said Dr Qadri remained the main topic of discussion during a meeting at Bilawal House in Karachi late Thursday night.
The meeting — co-chaired by President Asif Zardari and Premier Raja Pervaiz Ashraf — was attended by MQM’s Farooq Sattar, Raza Haroon and Babar Ghauri, PML-Q President Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and ANP chief Asfandyar Wali Khan.
The meeting also discussed the upcoming caretaker set-up and a date to dissolve parliament and provincial assemblies.
Leaders of the coalition partners stressed the need to negotiate with Dr Qadri over his demands for sweeping reforms, sources said.
The MQM representatives told the meeting that their party has already decided to participate in Dr Qadri’s rally – but at the same time they would also continue supporting the government, democracy and fight against terrorism.
Sources said the meeting also discussed at length issues pertaining to upcoming interim set-up and dissolution of parliament and provincial assemblies.
Party leaders, however, refused to provide details, insisting instead that the meeting was not official and they were, in fact, invited for dinner.
Earlier in the day, Asfandyar Wali said, “I have come to meet PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.”
Meanwhile, Chaudhry Shujaat also said that he was invited by the president for dinner. “I will meet him, but my purpose here is to attend the dinner party.”
Sources said that a day earlier some PPP leaders suggested the president either dissolve the assemblies 24 hours before Dr Qadri’s long march or announce to do so during Bilawal’s public meeting in Thar (also scheduled for January 14) and fix a date of general elections.
According to sources, some senior members also suggested negotiating with PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif on an interim government in order to consider his proposal to appoint Mehmood Khan Achakzai as caretaker prime minister to weaken Dr Qadri’s long march campaign.
They added that soon after the suggestion the president formed a four member-committee to negotiate with Nawaz and his government in Punjab on the issue.
However, no clear decision has been made so far as all leaders sought time to consult their respective parties. It is expected that an important decision would be made soon. On the other hand, presidential spokesperson Farhatullah Babar said all coalition partners vowed to continue their alliance and support democracy.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 11th, 2013.