ISLAMABAD: After fully facilitating the government in the passage of a number of FATF-related bills in parliament at the cost of opposition unity, president of the main opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Shahbaz Sharif on Tuesday met Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman at the latter’s residence and vowed to make efforts to unite the opposition parties on one platform in order to convene a multi-party conference (MPC) in the near future.

“It has been decided that all the parties will be united. It has been decided that we will go together. Rehbar Committee will meet and the all parties’ conference [of the opposition] will also be held,” said Mr Sharif during a brief media chat with Maulana Fazl after their meeting.

However, in response to a question as to who would host the MPC, the JUI-F chief said “I don’t know” and then in the second breath stated that “Shahbaz Sharif is the opposition leader”, meaning thereby that like the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the JUI-F also wants the PML-N to host the opposition parties’ gathering for the purpose of devising a strategy to launch an anti-government drive in the country.

Senior leaders from the two parties, including Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, Khawaja Asif and Khawaja Saad Rafique of the PML-N and Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri of the JUI-F, were also present in the meeting which, according to both sides, was held in a good environment.ARTICLE CONTINUES AFTER AD

PML-N, JUI-F vow to make efforts to unite opposition parties on one platform in order to convene MPC

Mr Sharif said they had decided that efforts would be made to unite all the parties inside and outside parliament and would “move forward with solid consultations”.

Maulana Fazl said he had told the PML-N delegation that they had already convened a meeting of other smaller parties, including the nationalist parties, which were unhappy with the PPP and PML-N for their role in parliament during the passage of the bills to fulfil the conditions of the Financial Action Task Force and that he would come back to the two major opposition parties after consulting them.

The JUI-F chief said they had to delay the meeting of the smaller opposition parties because of the death of National Party (NP) president Mir Hasil Bizenjo.

He welcomed Mr Sharif’s initiative to contact the opposition parties and said first he would hold consultations with the smaller parties and then contact the two major opposition parties for the MPC.

The Maulana said they were in an agreement that they needed to move forward under a “joint strategy” as “division within the opposition and lack of unity at this stage will be detrimental for Pakistan and its people”.

“It is better that we should sit together and remove our reservations and complaints against each other while showing respect for each other and make a joint and consolidated strategy with confidence,” the JUI-F chief said, adding that they had agreed to launch an anti-government movement, but for this purpose, they required “concentration, strategy and joint actions”.

Asked if the JUI-F was again ready to believe the two major opposition parties despite their past role of “ditching” the smaller opposition parties on a number of crucial occasions, Maulana Fazl simply said that Mr Sharif’s arrival at his residence had removed most of the concerns in this regard and it would not be an issue.

When contacted, JUI-F spokesperson Hafiz Hussain Ahmed said that during the meeting his party leadership had expressed reservations over the role of the PPP and PML-N inside parliament. He said efforts were on to convene a meeting of the smaller opposition parties on Thursday (tomorrow). He said the MPC would be useful only if they would go into it knowingly as to “what they will say and what will be their strategy”.

Mr Ahmed said not only his party but other smaller parties were also angry over the PPP and PML-N’s role and now the JUI-F could not make any decision on its own and the nature of future cooperation with the two major opposition parties.

The leaders of the smaller opposition parties, including JUI-F, Jamaat-i-Islami, National Party and Pakhtunkhwa Mili Awami Party, had openly criticised the PPP and PML-N even on the floor of parliament for holding “secret negotiations” with the government over the FATF legislation at the residence of Speaker Asad Qaiser and not even taking them on board.

Talking to Dawn, PML-N information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb said both the PML-N and JUI-F were “matured parties” and they had succeeded in removing each other’s reservations. She denied that the JUI-F had put any conditions before them and only sought time to consult other smaller parties. She claimed that the decision had also been made to soon convene a meeting of the Rehbar Committee having representation of all opposition parties to discuss the agenda for the proposed and much-delayed MPC.

Initially, some two months back, it was PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari who had announced a plan to convene an MPC to devise a final strategy to oust the present rulers. Mr Bhutto-Zardari then met Mr Sharif and the JUI-F chief in Lahore and all the leaders vowed to convene the MPC and launch an agitation movement against the government.

When contacted, PPP secretary general Farhatullah Babar said that though the JUI-F had not formally conveyed its reservations or complaints to the party leadership, they were aware of it through the media and speeches in parliament. He once again said the PPP expected that Mr Sharif would soon convene the MPC of the opposition parties and the PPP was willing to participate in it.