A conference of the mainstream opposition parties, dubbed as the All Parties Conference (APC), was held Islamabad on Sunday to devise a unanimous strategy to oust the government of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).
Addressing the conference through video-link, former prime minister and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supreme leader Nawaz Sharif, who stayed in the background for more than a year, thanked Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari for “love with which he spoke to him a day earlier”, saying he would not forget it.
“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,” he said.
In an all-encompassing address, which centred on criticising the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan, Nawaz spoke on the “poor state” of Pakistan’s economy, “deteriorating” international relations, “muzzling” of media and “corruption within the PTI”. Similarly, Zardari criticised the government in his welcome note for not “allowing” Nawaz’s speech to be broadcast, he said they showed former president Pervez Musharraf’s interview.
“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?” the former PM asked.
He also repeated the opposition’s allegation that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), with the connivance of PTI, was carrying out only “selective accountability”.
Sharif has been residing in London since November last year on the pretext of medical treatment and has since maintained a distance from political activities. His party insists that despite being summoned by the courts, who declared him a proclaimed offender in a corruption probe, the former premier will only return after the completion of his medical treatment.
“If we do not do it [take a step] today, when will we?” asked Nawaz. “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 of 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,” he added.
Nawaz also hinted at the presence of a parallel justice system. “When a dictator was first brought into the courtroom for violating the Constitution, you saw what happened,” he said.
“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,” he added.
The PML-N supremo said that 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,” he said.
Speaking about the 2018 general elections, Nawaz said that 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?” he asked.
“Can I ask why the Results Transmission System (RTS) was closed for hours during the election, why polling agents were thrown out during counting? Why was rigging done, on whose saying and why? The secretary of election commission should answer and all those responsible will have to answer,” he remarked.
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’,” he said.
“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,” Nawaz said. “If change is not brought, it 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,” he added.
Concluding his speech, the former PM once again thanked the PPP and reminded the leaders that now was the time to unite.
“We have to decide that we are one and if the APC is succeeded in doing so, then this conference is successful,” he added.