–PML-N supremo says struggle isn’t against PM Imran, but ‘those who brought him into power’
–Zardari lashes out at PM Imran, urges people to stand united to save democracy in the country
ISLAMABAD: A conference of the mainstream opposition parties, dubbed as the All Parties Conference (APC), was held Islamabad on Sunday to devise a unanimous strategy to oust the government of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).
Addressing the conference through video-link, former prime minister and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supreme leader Nawaz Sharif, who stayed in the background for more than a year, thanked Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari for “love with which he spoke to him a day earlier”, saying he would not forget it.
“I am thankful to the organisers of the conference for giving me the opportunity to talk. Even though I am away from my country, I know very well what condition the country and the people are in. I believe this is a decisive turn; it is necessary to protect democracy […] and take fearless decisions,” he said.
In an all-encompassing address, which centred on criticising the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan, Nawaz spoke on the “poor state” of Pakistan’s economy, “deteriorating” international relations, “muzzling” of media and “corruption within the PTI”. Similarly, Zardari criticised the government in his welcome note for not “allowing” Nawaz’s speech to be broadcast, he said they showed former president Pervez Musharraf’s interview.
“The country’s leader keeps harping on about accountability but he himself is involved in raising sugar prices. Will no reference be filed against him?” the former PM asked.
He also repeated the opposition’s allegation that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), with the connivance of PTI, was carrying out only “selective accountability”.
Sharif has been residing in London since November last year on the pretext of medical treatment and has since maintained a distance from political activities. His party insists that despite being summoned by the courts, who declared him a proclaimed offender in a corruption probe, the former premier will only return after the completion of his medical treatment.
“If we do not do it [take a step] today, when will we?” asked Nawaz. “I agree with Maulana [Fazlur Rehman, chief of JUI-F] that we need to make this conference purposeful or people will be disappointed.”
“Pakistan has been constantly deprived of a democratic system […] When the vote is dishonoured, the entire democratic system becomes meaningless. When it is decided before the election process as to who will win and who will lose, then it can be guessed how the public is betrayed and how the public’s mandate is stolen,” he added.
Nawaz also hinted at the presence of a parallel justice system. “When a dictator was first brought into the courtroom for violating the Constitution, you saw what happened,” he said.
“Court gave dictators the right to play with the Constitution and acquitted someone who broke the Constitution twice […] Whereas the ones who follow the Constitution are still in jail,” he added.
The PML-N supremo said that former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani once pointed to “a state within a state” in Pakistan. “It is saddening that the situation has escalated to a state above the state. This parallel government illness is the root cause of our problems,” he said.
Speaking about the 2018 general elections, Nawaz said that the primary reason for the current problems were those people who “hijacked the people’s mandate by putting inexperienced people in power”. “This is a violation of the Constitution. Has anyone given a thought to what a grave crime it is to steal the people’s mandate?” he asked.
“Can I ask why the Results Transmission System (RTS) was closed for hours during the election, why polling agents were thrown out during counting? Why was rigging done, on whose saying and why? The secretary of election commission should answer and all those responsible will have to answer,” he remarked.
‘MARTIAL LAW HAS BEEN IMPOSED’:
Nawaz alleged the government has enforced a “martial law”. “Criminals are allowed to make amendments to the Constitution […] the people’s premier is expelled and his family is insulted. This conference should bring forth a concrete plan of action for saving democracy, a concrete policy should be made for solving the problem of ‘a parallel state’,” he said.
“Our foremost priority should be removing this selected government and this system. Our struggle is not against Imran Khan. Today, our struggle is against those who installed Imran Khan and who manipulated elections to bring an inefficient man like him into power and thus destroyed the country,” Nawaz said. “If change is not brought, it will bring irreversible loss to this country. It is very important that our armed forces stay away from our governmental system according to our Constitution and the Quaid’s speech, and not interfere with the people’s choice. We have made this country a joke in our own eyes and internationally as well.”
“I again urge this all-party conference to go beyond its traditional ways and form a plan of action,” he added.
Concluding his speech, the former PM once again thanked the PPP and reminded the leaders that now was the time to unite.
“We have to decide that we are one and if the APC is succeeded in doing so, then this conference is successful,” he added.
PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif said that dictatorships in the country’s history had not only put a black mark on democracy but also damaged the judiciary.
Addressing the APC, Shehbaz talked about the 2018 elections, saying, “Remember when a selected government came into power and the selected prime minister promised the nation that the discrepancy in the elections, the disappearance of the RTS system, and the pre-engineering of election results would be investigated.”
Shehbaz claimed that the committee formed to investigate has not made even “an inch of progress”.
“The government alleges that the opposition did not cooperate. I am ready for a probe so what bigger lie can there be?” he remarked.
Former president Zardari in his welcome address said that the PPP believes in democracy.
Zardari thanked the attendees, noting that the APC should have taken place quite a while ago. The ex-president also especially welcomed PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz, saying, “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 PPP co-chairman said that the present rulers are not familiar with the norms of politics and termed them political dwarves. “The thinking pattern of the selected prime minister is that of a major. Since the very beginning we have been speaking against the fake mandate and this manipulation. Bilawal is probably the first leader to raise concerns that the government is selected,” he said.
The former president said, “We have tried to save democracy in the country for the 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, especially South Punjab.”
The PPP leader said he would inform the Foreign Office (FO) 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 to be united together to save democracy in the country and with the press, we will win through this,” he added.
PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari hailed the PML-N founder for giving a comprehensive speech and demanded a level-playing field in not only elections but in courts, media forums, and in the parliament as well.
Addressing the APC, Bilawal said, “As Nawaz Sharif has summed it all up that the failure of a democratic system is the failure of the society.” He added that everyone has seen that if the leaders are not elected through the public votes, the public welfare is always neglected.
“Instead of facilitating the doctors and health professionals, the government targeted them and did not support them the way they deserved,” Bilawal said. The PPP chairman also criticised the government over the state of media freedom in the country.
“When the political leaders are not permitted to present their viewpoint, if media is punished and censored of what they broadcast, then how do we expect that a common man can speak his mind?” he asked.
Earlier in the day, the PPP chief, in a tweet, welcomed the APC where “Pakistan’s opposition parties will unite to hold this regime to account.”
Today Pakistan’s opposition parties will unite to hold this regime to account. 2 years of this selected experiment has had disastrous consequences for Pakistan, our citizens, democracy, economy & foreign policy. Democracy is the best revenge. #UnitedForDemocracy #APC2020
— BilawalBhuttoZardari (@BBhuttoZardari) September 20, 2020
“[Two] years of this selected experiment has had disastrous consequences for Pakistan, our citizens, democracy, economy & foreign policy. Democracy is the best revenge,” he added.
Sharif was invited by the PPP chairperson on Friday during a phone call made by the latter to inquire after the former’s health. Subsequently, on Saturday, Bilawal’s spokesperson Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar revealed that Sharif has accepted his invitation to virtually attend the conference.
Leaders of PPP started arriving at a five-star hotel in the capital, where the conference was held, in the morning. Senator Sherry Rehman while speaking to the media said that today’s would a “historic all-party conference”.
— PPP (@MediaCellPPP) September 20, 2020
From the PML-N side, an 11-member delegation led by party president Shahbaz Sharif attended the conference. The delegation included party’s Vice President Maryam Nawaz, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Khawaja Asif, Ahsan Iqbal, Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, Pervaiz Rasheed, Rana Sanaullah Khan, Amir Muqam and Marriyum Aurangzeb.
Reportedly, Maryam was attending the moot on the instructions of her father.
IMRAN ‘ORDERED’ UNINTERRUPTED COVERAGE:
Earlier in the day, Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Shibli Faraz termed the multiparty conference “a flimsy attempt to put pressure on the government to back off on accountability”.
“PM Imran Khan will never compromise on his commitment against corruption. Hence no NRO,” he said ahead of the event.
Following news of Nawaz’s address, Gill had warned that “the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) and other legal options” would be used if the PML-N supremo’s speech was aired by TV channels.
The speech, however, was aired by TV channels as well as live-streamed on social media platforms. Gill told a media house that PM Imran said that Nawaz’s address should be aired so that “his lies could be exposed” to the nation.
“Nawaz Sharif will lie so let him lie,” PM Imran said, according to reports. “The people should be allowed to decide for themselves.”