Opposition parties close ranks against govtThe Express Tribune Pakistan (Jan 15, 2019)

ISLAMABAD: Opposition parties in the National Assembly on Tuesday agreed to close ranks against the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government on crucial matters and formed a special committee to evolve joint strategies on important national issues.

The decision was taken in a meeting convened by Opposition Leader Shahbaz Sharif in his chamber at the Parliament House. It was attended by top leadership of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) and other parties.

Speaking to reporters after the nearly two-hour-long meeting, PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif said the opposition leaders had decided to form a committee to formulate proposals for adopting a joint course of action to help resolve national issues.

The joint committee – with representation from all opposition parties – would be responsible for holding negotiations with the government on the issue of an extension in the tenure of military courts, Shahbaz told reporters.

“A coalition agreement has been reached between the opposition parties,” said former president Zardari after the meeting. “The opposition has today adopted a very good strategy to form a committee and have a joint opposition in and outside parliament,” added Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.

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The joint committee comprised Syed Khursheed Shah and Sherry Rehman of the PPP; Ahsan Iqbal, Rana Sanaullah and Marriyum Aurangzeb of the PML-N, Amir Haider Hoti of the Awami National Party (ANP), Maulana Abdul Wasay of the MMA and Akhtar Mengal of the BNP.

At the media talk, both Shahbaz and Bilawal slammed the PTI government’s economic policies. They expressed concerns over hike in the prices of gas, power, medicines and items of daily use. “The economic conditions have worsened,” Shehbaz said, adding that inflation had risen as well.

Shahbaz called for a fresh bidding for the Mohmand dam contract to ensure transparency in this mega project. On the second extension in the tenure of military courts, Shehbaz said “the combined opposition” would take the decision in the national interest.

The meeting took place after the opposition staged a walkout from the National Assembly after raising questions over the bidding process of Mohmand dam. It had become a controversial issue after the contract was awarded to a close aide of the prime minister.

At the meeting, former president Asif Zardari, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Syed Khursheed Shah, Syed Naveed Qamar, Sherry Rahman, former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Khwaja Asif, Ahsan Iqbal, Rana Tanveer Hussain, Khawaja Saad Rafique, Rana Sanaullah, Senator Pervez Rashid, Senator Asif Kirmani and Marriyum Auranzeb were present.

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MMA was represented by it parliamentary leader Maulana Asad Mahmood and Maulana Abdul Wasay while ANP was represented by Amir Haider Khan Hoti. Balochistan National Party’s Agha Hassan Baloch and Haji Hashim Potezai also participated in the meeting at special invitation by the opposition parties.

Their talks focused on the current political and economic situation in the country, the Mohmand dam issue, extension in tenure of military courts and the strategy of the opposition. Bilawal later said that the Charter of Democracy would be revisited, keeping in view the ground realities and political situation.

Bilawal said the opposition’s human and democratic rights were under attack from all sides by the government, but the opposition leaders were “not ready to compromise” on these two rights. He also said his party did not want to strike any deals with the government to seek an NRO-type amnesty.

The PML-N president slammed the “worst incompetence” of the PTI government and accused it of “cronyism” in awarding the Mohmand dam contract to a consortium, allegedly owned by a sitting adviser to the prime minister.

When the former president Zardari was asked whether the opposition parties would come together in the shape of an alliance, he replied: “The union has taken place.”

Later, the opposition issued a joint communiqué, alleging that the PTI government’s disastrous economic policies and utter disregard for provincial autonomy posed a grave threat to the existence and federation of Pakistan.

It stated that the dangerously falling economic growth rate and the resulting unemployment had spun out of control and the government’s economic policies had become “a clear and present danger for the country”.

“The leaders of the opposition parties in the meeting rejected the government’s mini-budget and said that the third budget by the ‘insanely incompetent’ government will be vociferously opposed in parliament because it would crush the already burdened masses of Pakistan,” it said.

The joint statement expressed grave concern over “the rapidly shrinking room for freedom of speech, freedom of the press and broadcast” and the “economic snuffing of media outlets, leading to their closure”.

The joint statement pointed out that a steep decline of 35% in the value of rupee had on the one hand added billions more to the foreign debt of Pakistan while on the other crucial sectors of national development and everyday life were severely hit by this devaluation.

“All these disastrous economic policies of the government created uncertainty in the investors that cost Pakistan more than $40 billion at the stock market and brought financial activity to a grinding halt,” the joint statement said.

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