—Shehbaz advises govt to employ political strategy to diffuse situation, not use force
—Bilawal urges all parties to act responsibly to avoid further tragedies
—Shafqat Mahmood asks opposition to ‘unite’ instead of ‘playing politics’
ISLAMABAD: The opposition parties on Thursday agreed cautiously on supporting the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government to end the on-going protests by religio-political parties and have advised the government against using force to diffuse the situation.
On Thursday, a committee constituted by Prime Minister Imran Khan and led by Defence Minister Pervez Khattak, along with other government leaders, met Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif and announced that both the government and opposition will work together to end the protests amicably.
Meanwhile, Shehbaz Sharif has advised the government to act in a mature manner and use a political strategy to defuse the situation. “We will not favour the use of force in any case,” Shehbaz was quoted as saying.
“The future of the country belongs to our children and we will not let it fall prey to politics. The way PTI used sit-ins in the past to provoke religious sentiments for the sake of political gains, the PML-N will not do that,” he said.
The PML-N president also appointed Ayaz Sadiq as the focal person to keep him posted on the current situation.
Resonating with the sentiment of the government, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari urged all the political parties to demonstrate responsibility in the current situation as the country cannot afford any more tragedies.
Speaking during a session of the National Assembly, Bilawal said that it was the time to develop consensus and address the challenges being faced by the country including the most imminent law and order situation.
Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, later in a press conference, announced that the state institutions and opposition parties were on the same page regarding the prevailing law and order situation.
He said that state institutions and the political parties had similar views on the issues of security, adding that all institutions, army and judiciary work under the same Constitution, he added.
Earlier in the day, Fawad said that the committee headed by Defence Minister Pervez Khattak had briefed the opposition about the steps taken by the government and said that law and order was a matter of concern for the whole country.
The info minister said that Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Shehbaz Sharif would be informed about the strategy to deal with the present law and order situation, adding focal persons had been appointed by both PML-N and PPP in view of the situation.
The minister said the opinion of the large parliamentary parties would be sought regarding the steps taken by the government.
He said a committee comprising ministers of interior, information and human rights, MNA Amir Dogar and others met Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Shehbaz Sharif and the opposition assured of its support on the issue.
It is pertinent to mention here that Bilawal Bhutto was the first one among the heads of political parties to come out in support of Supreme Court’s (SC) verdict regarding Aasiya Bibi’s acquittal and urged all the state institutions, including the National Assembly, to stand behind the SC in the time of need.
While a consensus was reached with the government, opposition parties condemned Prime Minister Imran Khan’s address to the nation on Aasiya Bibi’s acquittal and termed it as “aggressive” in view of the prevailing law and order situation.
While addressing the National Assembly session, PPP leader Khursheed Shah criticised PM Imran for “running away” from the Parliament at a time when the country was threatened by unrest.
“Prime Minister Imran Khan should have been here in the Parliament. The roads are blocked, people have been restricted to their homes, there is [violence]. He should not be running away. The PM and the interior minister should have been present here,” Shah said.
He further stated that the body language during his speech on Wednesday was “aggressive”.
“PM was aggressive in his speech, his body language suggested he was about to fight. Peace will not happen this way,” the PPP leader said.
“We fear the anarchy may spread. We are not talking about [our] vote bank. We should [all] be worried at the state of affairs. I strongly condemn the speech by PM yesterday,” he added.
The former opposition leader asked PM Khan to come to the parliament prior to his trip to China. The premier is scheduled to depart on Thursday night.
Following that, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Saad Rafique voiced similar thoughts and said that a ruler’s attitude should not be “so aggressive” and the prime minister should have taken the House into confidence over the matter.
While addressing the PTI government, Rafique said, “The religion card that you used against [the previous government] in the past, is now being used against you.”
“You used to talk of lockdowns and blocking roads. Now it’s being said that blocking the roads is not in the interests of the nation,” the PML-N leader remarked.
Furthermore, Rafique said that “the comments and threats against the national institutions were unacceptable, and he did not want to gain any political advantage at the expense of the situation”.
On the other hand, Federal Minister for Education and Professional Training Shafqat Mahmood during his address in the NA slammed Khursheed Shah for “playing politics” instead of standing behind PM Imran in his resolve to keep the writ of the state intact.
“PM Imran Khan is the first ever leader to take [such a] strong stance in Pakistan’s history. Nobody spoke out in the past, Imran Khan addressed [220 million] people with bravery and reaffirmed the writ of the state,” the PTI leader said.
“This is not about the government, this is about the state. Instead of praising the PM’s stance [against the agitators], instead of condemning those who mocked the institutions, you chose to play politics for small gains,” Mahmood addressed Shah.
“The prime minister is not in the House but yesterday, he addressed 200 million people of this country directly. I condemn Khursheed Shah for using this matter for small political gains.”
The minister stressed that it was the government’s responsibility to maintain law and order. “The state’s writ was challenged, the law and order situation was challenged. Unfortunately, politics was played on the Supreme Court’s judgment,” he lamented.
“Instead of doing politics, this is a very good opportunity to come together, to unite,” Mahmood urged.
The PTI leader, referring to PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto’s statement calling on the National Assembly and other institutions to stand with the Supreme Court, expressed his astonishment that a veteran leader like Khursheed Shah could be saying something so conflicting.
During his speech, Bilawal further said that the PPP stands for democracy, rule of law and justice, and expressed hope that the incumbent government will seriously fulfill its responsibilities.
The PPP chairman asked the government to brief the house about the steps taken for the protection of Aasiya Bibi and the honorable judges of the Supreme Court (SC).
Bilawal said, “My grandfather, my uncles, my mother, my governor Punjab, my federal minister for minorities were assassinated. I appeal to all political parties to show some responsibility as we cannot afford any more tragedies.”
He said, “I do not agree with some of our opposition party members’ criticism about the prime minister’s speech.”
“I expected him to deliver a speech today along the lines of what he said on Wednesday and for me to be able to say: Qadam barhayen, Imran Khan, hum tumharay saath hain (step forward, Imran Khan, we are with you). We are with democracy, we are with justice, and we are with rule of law,” he added.
“The PTI-led government, particularly the prime minister and the interior minister, needs to take their responsibilities as well as this House seriously,” he concluded.
On Wednesday, following the agitation from Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) after Aasiya Bibi’s acquittal, PM Khan in a short address to the nation regretted that the demonstrators had termed the chief justice “liable to be killed”.
Declaring that the elements inciting people against the judiciary and army just to enlarge their vote bank were not serving the cause of Islam, the premier had warned the groups that had mounted protests to desist from confronting the state.