Opposition’s anti-govt APC commences in Islamabad

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s major Opposition parties have come together to devise an anti-government strategy at an All Parties Conference hosted by the PPP at a five-star hotel here in the federal capital today.

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In his welcome note, PPP Co-Chairperson Asif Ali Zardari thanked the attendees, noting that the APC should have taken place quite a while ago. Criticising the government for not “allowing” former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s speech to be broadcast, he said they showed former president Pervez Musharraf’s interview.

“We have never seen such stringent censorship across the country,” Zardari stated. “This reflects on the weakness of the government. It is impossible to curtail the emerging voices of the media.

“Today, a child from Balochistan has access to media and can voice out his concern.”

‘Tried to save democracy’

The ex-president also especially welcomed PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz, saying he was “fully aware of the hardships you’ve been through and respect that”.

“My solidarity is with Maryam Nawaz Sharif; she’s like my daughters, she has suffered a lot in her struggle, and we stand by her.

“The thinking pattern of the selected prime minister is that of a major,” Zardari said. “Since the very beginning we’ve been speaking against the fake mandate and this manipulation. Bilawal is probably the first leader to raise concerns that the government is selected.

“We tried to save democracy in the country since past two years. The first necessity to run a democratic state is democracy. We have raised voice for Balochistan and have been speaking for Punjab and South Punjab,” he added.

The PPP leader said he would inform the Foreign Office about developments during his tenure instead of the other way round and asking them for permission.

“When I was asked by authorities during my tenure as the president if I ‘asked the Foreign Office’, I used to reply that I have ‘informed the Foreign Office’,” he stated.

“My message to Pakistani people is that we have not united together to save democracy in the country and with the press, we will win through this,” he added.

‘Disastrous consequences’

Earlier in the morning, PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and delegations of the PML-N — including party president Shehbaz Sharif and VP Maryam Nawaz — and JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman arrived at the venue, with other leaders joining over the past hour.

Shortly after reaching the APC venue, Bilawal criticised the ruling PTI, saying on Twitter “2 years of this selected experiment has had disastrous consequences”.

Tell govt ‘ghabrana nahi hei!’

PPP Senator Sherry Rehman spoke to the media ahead of the APC, saying today’s was “a gathering of 12 parties and all Opposition leaders are coming”.

“The government is very confused and nervous; tell them there is nothing to worry about,” Rehman said, using Prime Minister Imran Khan’s much touted slogan of “Ghabrana nahi hei [You need not worry]!”

She said the APC would decide on how the Opposition parties would proceed ahead, with talks between the participating leaders.

“Asif Zardari will give a welcome note,” she said. “[The speech of] Mian Nawaz Sharif will be streamed live. Then Shehbaz Sharif and Bilawal will address the gathering.”

The PPP leader said the Opposition parties would discuss the PTI regime’s two-year performance and an action plan would be drawn up in the APC.

Former PM and PML-N leader Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said the Opposition would form a unanimous plan of action, which would be effective. “The people will get rid of this failed government,” he said.

“The countdown to [ouster of] those with undemocratic and authoritarian minds will begin today,” PML-N Senator Pervaiz Rasheed said, adding that the “today’s journey will lead to true democracy in Pakistan, the supremacy of parliament and the rule of law”.

Zardari, Nawaz attending virtually

PPP Co-Chairperson Asif Ali Zardari and PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif and will also address the APC, attended by nearly a dozen political parties, via video link and the broadcast is scheduled to be streamed live on social media.

“The PPP will provide a link on social media where the two leaders will deliver opening remarks,” the PPP had said in a statement earlier.

This will be the first political activity of PML-N supremo since he left the country in November for treatment in London.

The announcement of a live broadcast comes even as PM Imran’s aide on political communication, Shahbaz Gill, warned of legal action if Nawaz’s address is aired.

‘Absconding criminal’

Minutes after the APC commenced, Information and Broadcasting Minister Senator Shibli Faraz termed the meeting a “flimsy attempt to put pressure on the govt to back off on accountability”.

“Nation has witnessed that opposition has used politics for personal gains & used parliament to protect their personal empires,” the minister said, adding that the premier would “never compromise his commitment on corruption”.

“Hence no NRO,” he added.

Gill said it was not possible for an “absconding criminal” to take part in political activities and gives speeches.

“The Sharif family can tell nothing but lies. They are such [habitual] liars that they even lied about a disease,” Gill said on Twitter.

Nawaz had earlier agreed to virtually attend the conference on the invitation of Bilawal, who had called him to inquire after his health.

“Just spoke to Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif. Enquired about his health. Also invited him to virtually attend opposition APC, hosted by PPP, on 20th September,” the PPP boss had tweeted.

Gathering of ‘accused and losers’

Faraz had on Saturday questioned the real status of Nawaz’s health after it was announced he would be participating in the APC.

The PML-N supremo should not consider the people “fools”, Faraz had said.

In a press conference alongside PM’s aide on accountability and interior, Shahzad Akbar, he said: “I have heard that Nawaz Sharif will deliver an address via video link […] When he has to appear before the court, he claims he is ill and now all of a sudden he is fit for politics.”

Akbar said as per the PEMRA’s regulations, “an absconder cannot address a press conference”.

Faraz added that the opposition’s APC would be a gathering of “accused and losers” that aims to spread chaos in the country. The Opposition wanted to rule the country to protect its “illegal wealth and properties”, he said.

JI to stay away

While all the major opposition parties — including JUI-F and Akhtar Mengal’s BNP-M — have agreed to join hands against the PM Imran’s government, former PTI ally Jamat-e-Islami decided to stay away from the APC describing its agenda as vague and objectives dubious.

“The JI could not sit with those parties which are equally responsible with the PTI for economic and social destruction of the country, and dubiously supported the legislative agenda of PTI to push the country in the slavery of colonial powers,” said JI chief Sirajul Haq while addressing Mujahid-e-Millat seminar in memory of late Maulana Abdus Satar Niazi on Saturday.

‘Fazl to attend APC’

Bilawal had extended a formal invitation to the JUI-F chief during a meeting at the latter’s residence, sources informed.

During the meeting, Senator Abdul Kareem, Shah Owais Noorani, Yousuf Raza Gilani, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, Akram Durrani and Maulana Ataur Rehman were present.

Bilawal had said after the meeting that a very “wholesome” and “detailed” discussion took place between both parties. He said Fazl had accepted his invitation to attend the conference.

“We will hold a joint press conference following the APC and our next course of action will be announced then,” he told reporters.

New election or in-house change?

The Opposition parties had decided to convene an APC on September 20 after a Rahbar Committee meeting had decided that it was time to show the incumbent government the door.

“The situation in the country has reached a stage where we cannot afford even a moment’s delay,” JUI-F’s Durrani had said.

“We want free and fair elections in the country, with no interference whatsoever,” he had further said, terming the 2018 general elections “a disgrace to the whole country”.

Durrani had said the Opposition parties were on the same page that giving the incumbent government one more day in power would be unjust. “This government has destroyed the country in its two years” of rule, he had added.

“The APC will decide whether there will be a new election or an in-house change,” he had said.

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