Pakistan Muslim League-N chief Nawaz Sharif upped the ante in the policy of confronting the PPP-led government head-on that he now appears to be pursuing when he called upon his party workers on Monday to join the agitation against power outages and to mobilise the street in order to highlight corruption and the government’s “failure to resolve the energy crisis”.
Mr Sharif gave the call at the first meeting of the party’s Central Working Committee (CWC) at the Punjab House. He later chaired a meeting of the PML-N parliamentary party at the Parliament House, giving the go-ahead for protests inside and outside the parliament during the current National Assembly session.
Sources told Dawn that during the two back-to-back meetings, which spanned six hours, Mr Sharif found a rare consensus that a now-or-never situation had arrived and the PML-N had no option but to go for a final thrust to dislodge the PPP-led government.
It was perhaps after getting encouragement from the massive street protests in different Punjab cities that the PML-N members reached a consensus that the party should cash in on the situation and make an effort to convert the present agitation into a fully-fledged movement against the government.
Although the party managed to finalise a short-term agitation plan, the leadership failed to come up with a roadmap for an anti-government movement.
According to the sources, a number of speakers said the people generally believed that the PML-N had not played its role as an opposition and it was because of the party’s wrong strategy that the present rulers were enjoying “complete freedom in plunder and corruption”.
Some of the speakers, including Punjab Chief Minister, were of the view that if the party did not act this time, the people would consider them hand in glove with the present rulers and the PML-N would not be able to escape their wrath.
“Today they are protesting against the (federal) government. It will continue for four days. But if we remain silent, then on the fifth day, the protesters will turn against us and on the sixth day, the people will be holding us from our collars,” one of the participants quoted the Punjab chief minister as having said in a sombre mood.
Shahbaz Sharif’s portentous remarks got complete support from two firebrand MNAs, Khwaja Saad Rafique and Khwaja Mohammad Asif, who suggested to the party leadership that the PML-N should own the present demonstrations being held in different cities against loadshedding, the inside sources said. During the meeting, the sources said, Mr Rafique passed some derogatory remarks against President Asif Ali Zardari and warned the participants that Mr Zardari would flee the country the moment things turned critical.
It was after a fiery speech by Mr Rafique that Nawaz Sharif asked the MNA from Lahore to consult some party members and prepare a protest plan for the party, which he did.
Mr Rafique proposed that PML-N legislators should lodge a protest inside the National Assembly through fiery speeches, wearing black armbands and by staging walkouts. Moreover, the MNA proposed, the PML-N parliamentarians should organise demonstrations with the support of other opposition parties outside the Presidency and the Prime Minister House during the current week.
Some of the participants, including Nawaz Sharif, remembered the late chairperson of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP),, in good words, recalling the PML-N had jointly struggled with her for “true democracy” and not for the one the country had now.
APC: Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly, briefed the central working committee about reasons for accepting the prime minister’s invitation to attend the Sept 29 All-Party Conference (APC).
Chaudhry Nisar, who had attended the APC with Mr Sharif, said: “We successfully presented the party’s viewpoint in presence of the country’s political and military leadership in an effective manner”.
ELECTORAL ROLLS: The CWC members expressed concern over the ongoing process of voters’ verification by the Election Commission (EC) and the National Database Registration Authority (Nadra), alleging that through it the government had already started pre-poll rigging.
The sources said MNA Pervez Malik briefed the CWC on the flaws in the ongoing voters’ registration process. Mr Sharif directed party members to keep an eye on the process in their constituencies after party stalwart Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan declared that he had been constantly monitoring the process in his constituency and no one dared to do any irregularity in his area.
Interestingly, the PML-N members expressed satisfaction over the role of the present EC and it was decided not to blame the commission for the alleged pre-poll rigging. Instead, the sources said, it was decided that the members would accuse the government of using Nadra for manipulating the voters’ lists.
A former general secretary of the party, Iqbal Zafar Jhagra, had also been asked to monitor the voters’ registration process whereas Zahid Hamid had been asked to look into the option of taking legal action.
Mushahidullah Khan, the PML-N’s information secretary, said: “I can only say one thing that you people will see a major change in the country’s political scene in coming days.”
In reply to a question, he said his party had decided to agitate against the government with “full force”.
Later talking to media outside the Parliament House, Nawaz Sharif said the PPP-led government had failed to solve people’s problems.
“We have been hearing about circular debt since the present government came to power, but instead of decreasing, it is on the rise with every passing month,” he said.
About the protests against loadshedding, especially in Punjab, he said: “We are with people and will not leave them alone at this time of need.”
He regretted that the country had the capability to meet its electricity needs, but due to sheer mismanagement by rulers the nation had been left with no choice but to take to the streets.
He said if the need arose, the party would not desist from giving a call for long march