In what appears to be an attempt to revive the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz president Shehbaz Sharif on Monday hosted a dinner reception for all mainstream opposition parties.
However, the effort apparently aimed at bringing the Pakistan Peoples Party back to the multiparty alliance remained ineffective as PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari did not attend the dinner though senior leaders of his party did.
It was learnt that the PDM formally called a meeting of the heads of all opposition parties on Tuesday (today) without inviting the PPP to it.
Mr Bhutto-Zardari, who returned to the country from the UAE last night and did not take part in the event, sent a three-member delegation of the party comprising two former prime ministers Yousuf Raza Gilani and Raja Pervez Ashraf and Sherry Rehman to the dinner.
Similarly, PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz was reportedly in the federal capital on Monday, but she abstained from attending the dinner reception. Also PDM chairman and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman did not attend the event.
Besides, the ANP that had quit the PDM months ago was represented by Amir Haider Khan Hoti at the dinner, which was held at a local hotel.
Interestingly, no press talk was held after the dinner, which was quite unusual, as after all such meetings held in the part, opposition leaders talked to the media to give details of their interaction.
A source privy to the event told Dawn that while Mr Sharif had held a brief chat, no formal meeting took place, as people left the venue after the dinner. Mr Sharif, however, did ask all opposition leaders to unite again in view of the upcoming budget 2021-22. He was quoted as saying that it was a responsibility of opposition parties to resist all anti-people strategies and decisions being taken for the budget.
The source said the PPP and the ANP sought some time to give their reply on the issue raised by the host of the dinner.
Another source said no one except Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s son Asadur Rehman talked about PDM’s revival, but no other participant supplemented his point of view. All they talked was about the budget and how the opposition could provide relief to the nation, the source explained.
When contacted, PML-N Information Secretary Marriyum Aurganzeb said it was only a dinner and no formal meeting took place. However, she confirmed to Dawn that Mr Sharif urged all opposition parties to resist all government moves that caused ‘unprecedented’ inflation, joblessness and poverty in the country.
She said she came to know that Mr Bilawal, who was in the UAE, could not return to Pakistan on a normal flight and thus he returned in a special plane of Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah. “As he arrived in Karachi in the evening, therefore it was quite impossible for him to attend the event,” she reasoned.
However, a PPP leader said, Mr Bilawal had arrived from the UAE late Sunday night.
In a TV programme, PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal said in the meeting it was agreed that the joint opposition would not allow the government to present anti-people budget and therefore all parties decided to resist any such move.
He, however, asserted that the PDM had not invited the PPP to the alliance meeting being held today (Tuesday), because the party was no more a member of the PDM. “The PPP itself opted to depart its ways from the PDM, then how it could have been invited to the meeting,” he argued.
Mr Ahsan said “it was good” that the PPP had sent its high-powered delegation to the dinner, but he would be happier “if Mr Bilawal had attended the event”.
Talking to Dawn, PPP leader Farhatullah Babar said the meeting had broken the ice and provided a platform to the opposition leaders to get together and speak to one another. He also said it was not PDM’s meeting and therefore the PDM issue did not come up for discussion at the event.
Interestingly, Mr Babar negated Mr Iqbal’s argument that the PPP was not part of the PDM and therefore not invited. He asserted that the PPP should have been invited to the alliance meeting being held on Tuesday.
Mr Babar said the PPP delegation assured Mr Sharif that the party would support all such moves of the joint opposition that would block the way of “anti-people decisions” in the upcoming budget.
Real differences between PML-N and PPP came to fore when former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who was candidate of the PPP won the Senate election for the seat of leader of the opposition in the Senate. The PML-N blamed the PPP for obtaining votes of Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), which is one of the allies of ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) at Centre.