ISLAMABAD: A dinner invitation from Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani in honour of his visiting Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has thrown his bitter rivals including former premier Nawaz Sharif into a state of confusion.
Erdogan, thought to be a close personal friend of many Pakistani politicians, arrived in Islamabad on Sunday night on a three-day trip amid simmering political uncertainty after Premier Gilani’s conviction by the Supreme Court last month in a contempt case.
The Turkish leader is scheduled to hold separate meetings with a whole spectrum of political parties in Pakistan during his three-day stay in the country, fuelling speculation that he might be travelling with baggage full of advice and counsel for wrangling leaders.
One highlight of his trip will be an address he plans to deliver to a joint sitting of Pakistan’s parliament—the National Assembly and Senate—on Monday evening, earning him the distinction of being the first international leader to speak to lawmakers here twice.
The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the main opposition group that officially no longer recognises Prime Minister Gilani as a legitimate premier after his conviction, appeared to be in two minds over a decision to attend the dinner on Monday night.
The choice between losing the moral high ground by attending the dinner hosted by a convicted premier and to honour the Turkish premier known for having ‘brotherly’ relations with the Sharif family continued to haunt the PML-N all day long on Sunday.
By the evening, there were contradictions in the statements of the party’s top leaders.
Senator Ishaq Dar, Leader of the Opposition in Senate, told media in Lahore the former premier was unlikely to attend the dinner though the PML-N would welcome him at parliament and at a meeting scheduled for Tuesday. “Neither he (Nawaz) nor any of his representatives will attend the dinner,” said Dar in definite terms. But other party leaders, including MNA Ahsan Iqbal, Sharif’s Political Secretary Dr Asif Kirmani and Senator Mushahidullah Khan were all unsure as to whether Nawaz would attend and enjoy delicacies while sharing a table with his host and arch nemesis, Prime Minister Gilani.
“We haven’t decided this yet…Mian Sahib (Sharif) will have the final word himself on Monday,” said Senator Mushahidullah Khan, the spokesperson of the PML-N.
“I don’t know anything…I haven’t had any interaction with Mian Sahib today,” was the brief answer of Dr Kirmani.
Ahsan Iqbal was unable to confirm his party leader’s participation in the meeting, saying he was having difficulties establishing contact with Nawaz who usually enjoys a holiday away from all public activities.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), another group pushing Gilani to step down after his conviction, was in a relatively less pressing situation to respond to the premier’s dinner invitation – PTI chief Imran Khan, the recipient of the invitation, was out of the country.
Like PML-N leaders, PTI spokesperson Shafqat Mehmood was also unsure whether anybody else from the party would accept the invite.
Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), another party hell-bent on sending the prime minister packing as soon as possible, was also mulling how to respond to the invitation to its leader Syed Munawar Hassan, a top official said.
“We have just received it (the invitation), only hours ago…let us settle down and carry out some consultation on it. We will let you know,” said JI’s Liaqat Baloch.
Others who are invited include Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief Fazlur Rehman, Senator Munir Orakzai and Aftab Ahmed Sherpao.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 21st, 2012.