PPP-PTI Unity Sets Off Alarm Bells For PML-N

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ISLAMABAD: 

On Friday, most opposition parties seemed united inside parliament in their demand that PM Nawaz Sharif must resign in the wake of apex court’s verdict in Panamagate case – a situation that has rung alarm bells for the PML-N led government.

It was for the first time that opposition parties put up a joint show inside parliament since they parted ways last year after developing differences on the mode of investigation into Panama Leaks.

The PPP had opposed moving the court and wanted investigation through a judicial commission formed through a new law but the PTI, JI and AML had knocked doors of the apex court.

However, now efforts have kicked off, though at a nascent level, to unite the opposition groups, at least on the one-point agenda of the prime minister’s resignation.

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Main opposition parties – the PPP and the PTI – are unanimous in their demand that Sharif must step down. Smaller parties like the JI, PML-Q and AML also espouse the same stance.

However, these parties differ on issue of further probe through a joint investigation team (JIT) as ordered by Supreme Court in its Thursday’s verdict. The PPP has rejected outright formation of a JIT while the PTI has accepted it, though with certain reservations.

The PPP has asked the PTI to file a review petition in the apex court to demand a judicial commission instead of the JIT to further probe into Panama leaks case. The PTI’s top leadership has not come up with a conclusive stance on the JIT.  However, the party’s second tier leaders have been expressing their apprehensions.

Sources in the PML-N said the ruling party’s leadership was already concerned given that two judges recommended the PM’s disqualification and three judges recommended to probe the case further while none of the five-bench judges gave a clean chit to the Sharif family.

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Adding insult to injury, the mainstream opposition forces want the PM to stand down, claiming that majority of the government departments whose representatives would be part of the JIT – including the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) and the State Bank – report to the federal government headed by the prime minister.

A senior PML-N leader, requesting anonymity, said the PPP’s opposition to the JIT stemmed from its concerns over the inclusion of security agencies in the JIT.

According to the source, PPP Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari believes security agencies’ inclusion in the probe body would allow the security establishment to deal with the federal government from the position of strength, considering that the input of the representatives of military’s two intelligence agencies would be included in the JIT that is to decide the PM’s fate.

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“For the security brass to deal with the federal government from the position of strength implies that the government would be pressed to remain firm and uncompromising in the counterterrorism drive in particular context of Karachi, where the PPP has high stakes and security forces are leading an operation against terrorism, criminal networks and political violence,” the source said.

In the wake of tiff between the Centre and Sindh over the extension of Rangers’ special powers – with Sindh reluctant to give the paramilitary force full powers in the province – the army wants the federal government to put its weight behind the Rangers and take a strong stance, the insider said.

“The blanket crackdown against troublemakers, including those linked to political violence, has given sleepless nights to top politicians in Sindh, the PPP leadership in particular,” he said.

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He said the security brass was already in the driving seat in the counterterrorism campaign. “That the security bosses will be dealing with the federal government from a stronger position [in the context of the JIT] is something the PPP leadership does not want to happen,” he claimed.

Even the PML-N leadership is also concerned over the inclusion of security agencies’ representatives in the JIT given that they are ‘difficult to handle and influence’, the party sources said.

A source said both the PTI and the PML-N want general elections before the Senate elections scheduled in March next year on the grounds that the PML-N is the majority party in the National Assembly and if the Senate elections are held before the general elections, it would allow the ruling party to secure majority in the upper house.

So far, the PTI, the PPP and the JI have separately demanded PM’s resignation but they have not announced any plans of agitation in pursuit of their demands. In case these parties join hands, the PML-N would be in hot waters, the party circles said.

Speaking to The Express Tribune, Opposition Leader Syed Khursheed Shah avoided commenting on the possibility of an alliance among opposition parties against the PM. He, however, said the PPP was ‘open’ to unfolding political developments.

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“If things get to a point where such kind of alliance is necessary, we will review the situation and make a decision, accordingly. We support every political force that wants the PM to step down after the SC’s verdict has arrived,” he said.

Shah denied that the PPP’s opposition to the JIT had anything to do with the party’s stakes in Karachi. “Our rejection of the JIT is all about transparency and a fair probe.”

A senior PTI leader, wishing to be kept unnamed, indicated that the PPP and the PTI can inch closer, irrespective of the political differences, on the issue of the PM’s resignation but no headway has been made so far to this effect, he said.

PTI plans protest rallies from next week

Talking to reporters outside the National Assembly, the PTI chief Imran Khan said he would lead protests demanding Sharif’s resignation. He announced public rally in Islamabad on April 28.

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“They didn’t allow me to speak in parliament. Next Friday we are going to hold a rally in Islamabad and we will continue to demand Nawaz’s resignation,” Imran told reporters.

To intensify an anti-government campaign, the PTI is planning to hold back to back public rallies in different cities next month before start of Ramazan.

The PTI sources said, besides rally in Islamabad next Friday, big public gatherings are being planned in Quetta, Sargodha, Attock, Nowshera and other cities in May.

The PPP had scheduled public gatherings in Jhang, Nowshera and Swat before the judgment was announced. It would go with its schedule and turn them as anti-government rallies.

 

Courtesy: Express Tribune

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