Bilawal hosts ‘informal iftar-dinner’ for opposition in Zardari House

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on Sunday hosted “informal gathering” seen as yet another effort to form a grand opposition alliance.

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The most noteworthy guest of the iftar-dinner is Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Maryam Nawaz, daughter of currently imprisoned Nawaz Sharif. Maryam was appointed vice-president ─ 1 of 16 ─ of the central opposition party PML-N.

Today’s gathering marks the first ever interaction between kins of past arch-rivals and ex-rulers – Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto.

Maryam’s convoy, including Captain Safdar and Pervaiz Rasheed, went to ex-premier Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s house prior to arriving Zardari House. PML-N leader Hamza Shahbaz is also expected to attend.

While political analysts and media circles are deeming the gathering significant, the opposition leaders termed the iftar-dinner as “merely a get-together,” downplaying the occasion.

Expressing unease over the current economic situation of the country amid an increase in oil prices and unprecedented depreciation of Pakistani rupee against the US dollar, opposition leaders have announced or hinted at launching a protest campaign against the government after Eid.

PPP Secretary-General Farhatullah Babar denied the gathering having a formal agenda, saying, “just a get-together of the opposition leaders as the party chairman (Bilawal) wants to establish a rapport with them”.

“Politicians meet, they do discuss politics” and “you can call it a tentative grand meeting of the opposition parties and it can be seen as a step towards a formal get-together in the near future,” he added.

The gathering is taking place after the incarceration of former premier Nawaz Sharif and the PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif currently staying in London.

Additionally, background interviews with a number of office-bearers and members of the opposition parties disclosed that internal discussion on the “mode of protest” is going on in all the parties.

With religious parties set to launch an anti-government movement soon after Eid, the two central opposition parties – PPP and PML-N – are still uncertain of the timing.

Launching an anti-government campaign was discussed by senior party leaders on Friday during a meeting of the party’s core committee in Islamabad, according to the PPP inside sources.

The participants of Friday’s meeting are in unison on failure to launch a campaign against recent government decisions to increase the prices of electricity, gas, and oil, which would “politically damage” the PPP.

Besides deciding on the anti-government campaign, PPP, in the gathering, will seek the help of PML-N for a bill on a separate province for South Punjab and Bahawalpur.

After the gathering, the PPP requested live coverage of a joint press conference at Zardari House at 9 pm tonight.

The hosts are Bilawal and his father Asif Ali Zardari, the PPP chairman’s sister, Asifa, will be in attendance, along with the PPP core committee.

Maryam, Captain Safdar, Ayaz Sadiq, Pervaiz Rasheed, and Hamza Shahbaz will attend from PML-N while JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman will be leading a party delegation at the dinner, according to sources.

Mehmood Khan Achakzai, the Pashtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party chief was invited but he could not get on a flight on short notice, sources said.

Awami National Party leader Asfandyar Wali was invited but could not attend due to illness, Aimal Wali Khan and Zahid Khan will represent the party on his behalf.

Balochistan National Party chief Akhtar Mengal declined to attend despite the invitation.

Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) Emir Sirajul Haq could not attend due to prior engagements, his party will be represented by a delegation of top JI leaders. Sources claimed JI refused to be part of the anti-government drive.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government was not sent invitations.

Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting Firdous Ashiq Awan on Sunday alleged that the purpose of the gathering was to determine a plan to secure ill-gotten wealth.

She said, “the beneficiaries for whom this looted wealth was gathered will decide on a course of action to ensure the security of this wealth.”

“They don’t feel the pain of the people. At Iftar today, they will only think up plans to take care of their ill-gotten wealth abroad and how to protect Omni Group,” she added.

“The people of Pakistan still remember the long list of their crimes that damaged Pakistan financially and morally,” said a party in a tweet on Sunday.

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