LONDON/ KARACHI/ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Muslim League's London huddle has decided that there will be no early elections and the main focus of the current government should be on providing economic relief to the masses and also taking tough but long-term economic decisions, according to insiders of the meeting.
The meeting between Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, former PM Nawaz Sharif and senior PMLN leaders, including Khwaja Asif, Miftah Ismail, Marriyum Aurangzeb, Atta Tarar, Rana Sanaullah, Ishaq Dar, Ayaz Sadiq and others continued for over six hours at an undisclosed location in London.
Sources told this reporter that Nawaz Sharif sought suggestions on various issues, including early elections from all the party leaders and everyone agreed that the PMLN should implement the economic agenda for the remaining term and then announce the next elections in consultation with the coalition partners.
Answering questions of this correspondent after the meeting, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said that the PMLN leaders and PM Shehbaz Sharif presented a full report on Pakistan’s social, economic and political situation to Nawaz Sharif and briefed him on the agenda of the government and its planning.
She said the PMLN and its coalition partners had inherited the worst kind of economic situation from the PTI government and the meeting considered that huge suffering of people as a result of the policies of previous government. She said the meeting reviewed the IMF conditions and how the people of Pakistan were affected by it.
Marriyum said that the huddle discussed the constitutional violations that took place between 3-12 April by the PTI leaders and which still continued in Punjab. She said the final decisions would be taken in the second and last sessions, which would take place on Thursday and then formal announcements would be made.
When asked as to why these issues could not be discussed virtually and why the whole government was visiting London, Marriyum said there was nothing surprising in the London meeting. "Nawaz Sharif is our Quaid. Meeting between Nawaz Sharif and Shehbaz Sharif was long overdue. We have inherited today’s Pakistan in a written-off situation and we needed to review the whole situation to formulate a plan. This was a private delegation."
When asked about the early elections, she said that the current government’s "mandate is till next year and we are here to give relief to the people of Pakistan. It’s the history of Nawaz Sharif to take Pakistan out of economic crisis and if there is one person who can deliver, that's Shehbaz Sharif. Only the PMLN has the right strategy."
Outside Hasan Nawaz Sharif’s office, a large number of PMLN and PTI activists gathered and faced off each other for two hours. The call to protest was given by the PTI UK to condemn Shehbaz Sharif’s visit. The PMLN announced holding a counter-demonstration to welcome Shehbaz Sharif.
Both sides raised slogans in support of their leadership and also abused each other. The protest continued for two hours amid heavy downpour and then ended peacefully.
After meeting Nawaz Sharif, Kh Asif told this reporter that his statement on early elections was quoted out of context. He said this was a unanimous decision of all coalition parties to take economic and electoral reform decisions and then move into the next phase.
When asked about Imran Khan’s references to the Commander-in-Chief and Mir Jaffar and his anti-American narrative, Khwaja Asif said Imran Khan did not have any narrative. He said Imran Khan was jumping from one narrative to another on daily basis and had no strategy. He said Imran Khan, Sheikh Rashid and others were trying to speak to the government to find a way out to save themselves from staging a dharna in Islamabad.
Shehbaz was last in London around two years ago, when he, then the leader of the opposition, returned to Pakistan at the height of the pandemic, saying he went back as the threat of coronavirus facing his country was more important than him being in London. He attempted to return to London in early 2021, but was prevented from doing so by the FIA officials who had appeared to be instructed by government officials.
Meanwhile, former president Asif Ali Zardari said that they were not afraid of elections, but the general election would only be held in the country after electoral reforms, no matter the process was completed in three or four months' time. Flanked by Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah and members of his cabinet including Sharjeel Inam Memon, Saeed Ghani and Syed Nasir Hussain, he was addressing a press conference at the Chief Minister’s House in Karachi on Wednesday.
Zardari said he was holding the press conference after consulting former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and conveying him the message that elections would only be held after completing electoral and NAB [National Accountability Bureau] reforms, and meeting all the targets of the new government for improving the national economy.
He said that electoral reforms were required so that no 'selected' was given an opportunity again to come to power. He said that the army, for the first time in the history of the country, had remained neutral in the recently-concluded exercise of removing the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government through the vote of no-confidence. "After the army has become apolitical for the first time, should I salute (General Qamar Javed) Bajwa or quarrel with him, and ask him as to why he became apolitical,” added the former president.
He said the army had remained completely apolitical and stuck to their oath of service, in accordance with the Constitution, as they (army) did not advise anyone to vote or otherwise for anyone in particular in the recent exercise of the no-confidence motion against former prime minister Imran Khan. He said the army chief deserved a salute over the institution staying neutral during all that political and constitutional process of removing Imran Khan.
Zardari said they would make efforts that the army remains neutral and apolitical in future also. "People’s representatives are present for resolving the issues being faced by the nation and we are paid salary for the very purpose," he said.
He said the PTI chairman had been demanding that early elections should be held in the country. "One should ask him (Imran Khan) as to what he will do after early polls are held, as he could not do anything in the past four years,” said the PPP leader. He said that whoever would come to power as a result of the elections would have to deal with the same issues. "So it is better that we should be given the chance to deal with these problems before going to elections."
“We should be allowed to first adopt the (electoral) laws as the entire controversy is centred around these laws,” he added. Separately, Minister for Defence Khwaja Muhammad Asif said on Wednesday that he would not rule out general elections before the appointment of new Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) in November, this year.
In an interview to BBC Urdu, the defence minister said there is a possibility that the newly-elected government would appoint the new army chief following the general elections. "There is a possibility that the caretaker government holds general elections and the newly-elected government appoints the next COAS,” the minister said.
General Qamar Javed Bajwa will complete his extended three-year term as COAS on Nov 29, this year. Asked whether there is a possibility that General Bajwa gets another extension, the defence minister said that Pakistan Army had already maintained that the army chief would not take another extension. "I think this announcement is a good omen which will close the chapter of any speculations with regard to extension in tenure of General Bajwa,” he said.
To a question, Kh Asif said that General Raheel Sharif never conveyed his demand directly or indirectly for getting an extension as the Army Chief. However, he was of the view that the procedure for appointment of Chief of Army Staff should be institutionalised as being done in appointing the Chief Justice of Pakistan. “Appointment of Army Chief should not become a political debate and the same should be done 100 per cent on merit,” he said.
The defence minister said that Imran Khan wanted to appoint the COAS at his own will to serve his political interests and for continuation of his rule in the country.
However, he rejected an impression that all the activity to topple Imran Khan government was carried out on this issue, saying that every prime minister enjoys discretion to appoint the COAS. He pointed out that the-then prime minister appointed Army Chiefs in 2013 and 2016 purely on merit while giving due consideration to Pakistan Army’s recommendations. He told BBC that then prime minister Nawaz Sharif did not personally know General Raheel Sharif while he was familiar with General Qamar Javed Bajwa because he also acted as corps commander Rawalpindi.
The defence minister said that the name of ex-DG ISI and currently Peshawar Corps Commander Lt-Gen Faiz Hameed will also be considered if it comes in the seniority list in case the decision is taken by the incumbent prime minister. "Then we will not advise the defence ministry to send the summary containing three or eight names," he said.
Kh Asif said that the institution of Pakistan Army having its own sanctity should not become an issue for discussion in the public domain, saying that red lines were mixed due to what happened in the recent past in this regard.
Separately, speaking in Geo News programmes, Kh Asif clarified his statement about the general election in November this year. He said his statement was taken out of context. He said he fully agreed with PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari that election would be held after electoral and NAB reforms. He said there were no differences among the ruling alliance parties on the issue.
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