With storm clouds looming large over the political horizon, prominent politicians continued to make a strong pitch for government “magnanimity” towards the opposition and desist from overreacting to posturing by its foes.
The government is clearly feeling the heat, especially ahead of the Azadi March of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) scheduled for August 14. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is conferring with politicians of all hues for their feedback before finalising a government strategy to deal with the protest march.
Tuesday saw a flurry of political contacts at the top level. The prime minister approached PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, who is currently in London. The telephonic contact came hours after Zardari rang PTI chief Imran Khan and Jamaat-e-Islami Ameer Sirajul Haq. Zardari is said to have assured Imran that he supported PTI’s demand for a full audit of votes in the constituencies where the party believes the 2013 elections were massively rigged. However, Zardari was noncommittal on whether or not the PPP would join the Azadi March.
Though both the prime minister’s office and the PPP confirmed the contact between PM Nawaz and Zardari, neither side was ready to divulge what the two leaders discussed. It was a second attempt by the premier to approach the PPP leader. Earlier in the day, he tried calling Zardari, but couldn’t get through.
The government also contacted the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and invited the party to a meeting with the prime minister, according to a statement issued by the MQM London Secretariat. “The MQM accepted the invitation and a high-level MQM delegation would meet Nawaz Sharif Thursday noon at the PM House,” it added.
These contacts followed a consultative session between the prime minister and leaders of allied and opposition parties. Leader of the Opposition Khursheed Shah, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Pashtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai and Qaumi Watan Party leader Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao attended the session.
Sherpao said that they had advised the government to avoid confrontation and resolve the contentious matters through dialogue. “We don’t support any unconstitutional step and want matters to be resolved through reconciliation,” Sherpao told The Express Tribune. “We also advised the government to allow the protesting parties to stage their rallies in the federal capital if they promise that their supporters will remain peaceful.”
PPP spokesman Senator Farhatullah Babar said Asif Zardari’s phone calls to political leaders were part of a consultative process to ward off any threat to democracy. Zardari had also contacted PML-Q chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Asfandyar Wali of the ANP on Monday. PPP’s suggestion wasn’t different from what other politicians advised the government in Tuesday’s meeting.
“The thrust of the phone calls of the former president was on protecting and promoting democracy and constitutionalism and at the same time sending a clear message to the government to listen to the voices of reason and logic and not to ‘overshoot the bullet’,” Senator Babar told The Express Tribune.
He said that Zardari was seriously concerned over the direction and momentum of the political course in the country. “He [Zardari] is keen to consult all political forces in a bid to protect the democratic structure from being undermined under any pretext and the phone calls are part of the consultative process,” Senator Babar added.
“At the same time, the former president is keen to dissuade the government from any knee-jerk reaction or from embarking on any irrational and illogical course that may result in political instability and expose democratic institutions to new and unforeseen kinds of threats,” he added.
About the Zardari-Imran call, Senator Babar said the PPP co-chairman told the PTI chairman that his party agreed with the demand for the recount of votes in the disputed constituencies and opposed the deployment of army troops in Islamabad under Article 245 of the Constitution. At the same time, he made it clear that it was also crucial that no opportunity was provided to anyone to derail the democratic system behind the façade of political instability.
Senator Babar’s statement was corroborated by PTI spokesperson Shireen Mazari, who said that Imran Khan thanked Zardari for his support to PTI’s demand for recounting of votes in four key constituencies. Zardari assured the PTI chief of his party’s full support for PTI’s fight for fair and free elections, Mazari told The Express Tribune.
According to PPP sources, their party was weighing its options and would not take sides at this juncture. “We are acting as arbitrators, not officially but politically. On the one hand, we’re asking the protesting parties for their minimum demands, while on the other hand we’re trying to determine what the government can concede,” a close aide to Zardari told The Express Tribune. He added that the PPP was trying to bring the two sides to the negotiating table on a minimum common agenda.
About the Martyrs Day of Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), Senator Babar said the PPP would not participate in the August 10 event. “While the PPP condemns the Model Town incident, calls for registration of an FIR, holding of a judicial inquiry and also sympathises with the families of the victims, it will not do anything that might be seen as aligning with PAT’s so-called ‘revolution march’,” he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 6th, 2014.
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