ISLAMABAD - PPP and PTI, erstwhile bitter rivals, yesterday inched towards forming an anti-government alliance as their top leaders met here amid the rulers’ struggle to defend themselves in the Panama leaks scandal.
The two major opposition parties vowed to give a tough time to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as his family is facing the allegation of making billions of rupees through corruption.
PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari, the party sources, said had given a go-ahead to give a tough time to the government – a hint the PPP-PTI alliance could be on the anvil.
A senior PPP leader told The Nation Zardari showed his resolve to protect democracy, but made it clear the party would not try to save the corrupt.
“If there is a threat to democracy, the PPP will stand by the democratic forces and will not help the government hide corruption,” he quoted Zardari as saying.
The sources said the meeting between PTI’s Shah Mehmood Qureshi and PPP leaders, Aitzaz Ahsan, Khurshid Shah and Saleem Mandviwala, was positive about a joint strategy to pressurise the government.
Speaking to journalists after the meeting, opposition leader in the Senate Aitzaz Ahsan warned his party against supporting Prime Minister Sharif on the Panama leaks.
“The one-point agenda for Nawaz Sharif in London is to meet Asif Ali Zardari to seek his support,” he claimed, warning the PPP would be in trouble if it decided to support PML-N this time.
Meanwhile, PTI chief Imran Khan is working for an all parties’ conference to launch a movement against the government. Yesterday, he also held telephonic conversation with Jamaat-e-Islami chief Sirajul Haq to discuss the matter.
Prime Minister Sharif will leave for London today (Wednesday) for ‘medical check-up’ as speculations are rife about his possible meeting with Zardari who is already in the British capital, historically Pakistan’s political hub.
Spokesman for the PM’s office, Mussadek Malik, however, denied such reports. “The prime minister did not express his desire to meet the PPP leadership during the upcoming London visit,” he said in a statement, adding Sharif would be in London only for medical check-up.
Imran Khan is also expected to arrive in London by April 14, where he will hold meetings on the Panama leaks with his supporters and, possibly, the British authorities. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan is likely to land in the UK on April 16.
Insiders in the PPP and the ruling PML-N said a meeting or a contact between Sharif and Zardari cannot be ruled out despite the official denials.
“Nawaz Sharif is looking for support at this time. Zardari will not deny a meeting, but will think twice before supporting the government this time. The PPP has got nothing for remaining silent for three years. The friendly opposition’s role may not be the best option,” a source close to the PPP leadership told The Nation.
Another PPP leader said Sharif had denied a meeting with Zardari when he was in trouble for making a controversial speech last year, but the party never backed attempts to destabilise the government.
“The PML-N always creates problems for itself, but we have behaved responsibly for the sake of democracy. Most of our party members do not want us to back Nawaz Sharif at this point, but a final decision is still with the top leadership,” he added.
There are hints Imran Khan might directly or indirectly try to contact Zardari after the meeting between Shah Mehmood Qureshi and the PPP leaders to stop him from saving Sharif.
“There is no effort for a meeting, but it is very much possible that Imran Khan could try to contact Zardari for a one-point agenda of pushing the government to the corner,” a source in the PTI said.
In his weekend ‘address to the nation’ from his Islamabad residence, Imran Khan said his party would march towards Prime Minister Sharif’s residence in Lahore’s Raiwind area instead of marching on Red Zone in Islamabad. He gave the government time till April 24 to take an appropriate action over the issue.
Earlier, Prime Minister Sharif addressed the nation over the television to defend his family’s business practices, denying any wrongdoing and terming corruption claims ‘old accusations repeated again and again.’
Nawaz Sharif announced to set up a commission to investigate the allegations based on the Panama leaks that offshore companies headed by members of his family were avoiding paying taxes or disguising assets and their origins.
Political opponents, notably Imran Khan, have accused Sharif’s family of having gained the funds illegally through corruption during his two previous stints as prime minister in the 1990s.
Sharif and his family have denied any wrongdoing, saying the assets were gained legally, mainly through the family’s network of businesses and industries in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
As the top politicians leave for UK, PPP chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari landed in Islamabad yesterday and held meetings with the AJK leadership. AJK President Sardar Yaqoob Khan and Prime Minister Chaudhry Abdul Majid called on the PPP chief to discuss the upcoming polls. The PPP has been accusing the PML-N government of committing pre-poll rigging in AJK to ensure victory.
Bilawal and opposition leader Khurshid Shah also discussed the Panama leaks. The meeting with the PTI leaders also came under discussion.
Sources said the two leaders agreed, in principle, to give a tough time to the government on the Panama leaks.
Bilawal is on a two-day visit to Islamabad, but, the sources said, his stay could be extended in view of the political developments.