Zardari-Fazl meeting, fuels intense speculation

ISLAMABAD: The reported meeting between Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) Chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman in London has fueled intense speculation in the country as to what was discussed and whether any agreement was reached.

Background interactions with insiders from the PPP and JUI-F revealed that Maulana Fazlur Rehman conveyed Prime Minister Sharif’s message to the former president to extend a helping hand to the government to prevent third party intervention on the pretext of investigating Panama leaks and thereby save the teething democracy.

The PPP did not officially confirm the meeting between the two leaders but sources maintained that it was a one-on-one meeting at the request of the JUI-F chief in which the PPP co-chairman complained about the ‘vengeful policy’ of the PML-N’s federal government against the PPP’s Sindh government and the party’s leadership.

The JUI-F chief reportedly committed to the former president that all his reservations could be addressed if he extended full support to Nawaz Sharif at this juncture.

The sources further said that the government is even considering offering the PPP the slot of the President, some federal ministries and a cooperative relationship with its provincial government including seeking the PPP’s views before appointing federal officials in Sindh if the party decides to extend a helping hand to the federal government.

Several PPP senior leaders have gone on record to state that it is not advisable to support the PML-N in the Panama leaks; and have advised their co-chairman that support for the PML-N at this point would be disastrous for the party’s image within the public and party workers and would only benefit other opposition parties especially Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI).

PPP insiders maintain that the Co-Chairman is fully aware that the party has gained the most with the Panama leaks, and any attempt to take a conciliatory position for some seats in the federal cabinet would compromise its 2018 election bid.

Few doubt that the final decision will be made by the Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari but a decision to support the PML-N may divide the party and may lead to defections. Ghazanfar Gul, a die-hard PPP leader told Business Recorder that the party is being led by its chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.

“Asif Zardari does provide guidance to Bilawal but the main decision would be taken by the central executive committee (CEC) led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari”, he said, adding the party would not strike any such deal which would have negative political repercussions. Senator Farhatullah Babar, the spokesperson for PPP co-chairman Asif Zardari, on Tuesday told Business Recorder that no meeting between Asif Zardari and Maulana Fazlur Rehman took place in London.

The PPP is currently part of the combined opposition and is also part of the parliamentary committee to formulate terms of references (ToRs) to investigate the Panama leaks against the Prime Minister’s children and others.-Business Recorder