ISLAMABAD: All eyes are on Islamabad where the much-hyped gathering of the opposition leaders, aimed at devising a strategy to oust the PTI-led coalition government, is taking place.
PPP leader and former president Asif Ali Zardari delivered the opening speech at the PPP-hosted multiparty conference through video link.
Zardari thanked supreme leader of the PML-N Nawaz Sharif for virtually attending the conference and asked everyone to pray for the deposed prime minister’s health. Both Zardari and Nawaz, who are facing corruption cases, are currently out on bail on account of their health.
He criticised the government over what he called were “tactics” to suppress the opposition and media.
He welcomed Maryam, PML-N vice-president and daughter of Nawaz Sharif, and said he was happy to see her at the conference. “We have seen the difficulties she has faced and we can understand because my own sister has gone to jail and my wife went to jail […] We pay tribute to her and we are with you, and will keep fighting for your cause and you will keep fighting for ours, I am sure.”
Nawaz breaks his silence
Nawaz then addressed participants via video link from London, marking his political comeback after more than a year. He started by thanking Zardari, saying he would not forget the love with which he spoke to him a day earlier.
“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.”
In an all-encompassing speech, which centred on criticising the Imran Khan-led government, Nawaz spoke on the “poor state” of Pakistan’s economy, “deteriorating” international relations, “muzzling” of media and “corruption within the PTI and Bani Gala”.
“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?”
He also repeated opposition’s allegation that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), with the connivance of PTI, was carrying out only “selective accountability”.
‘Democracy in danger’
“If we don’t do it [take a step] today, when will we?” asked Nawaz, who has been in the UK since November last year for medical treatment.
“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 from 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.”
Pakistan has become a laboratory of “such experiments”, added Nawaz. “Every child knows that no prime minister has been allowed to complete five years in power.”
All dictators have spent multiple years while premiers have hardly been allowed to complete their term, he said.
“When a dictator was first brought into the courtroom for violating the Constitution, you saw what happened. 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.”
Nawaz said 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.”
Speaking about the 2018 elections, he said the 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?”
“Can I ask why the Results Transmission System (RTS) was closed for hours during election, why polling agents were thrown out during counting? Why was dhandli done, on whose saying and why? The secretary Election Commission should answer and all those responsible will have to answer.”
‘Martial law has been enforced’
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’.
“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.
“If change is not brought, this 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.”