Pakistan Opposition’s ‘All Parties Conference’ Calls on PM Khan to Step Down
All Parties Conference., Islamabad, Pakistan, September 20, 2020. (Pakistan Peoples Party Media Cell)

Pakistan Opposition’s ‘All Parties Conference’ Calls on PM Khan to Step Down

Government accuses opponents of acting to protect ‘loot’ from past corruption

[Islamabad] Leaders of Pakistan’s opposition parties met on Sunday to form a grand political alliance and demand the immediate resignation of Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, chairman of the center-left Pakistan Peoples Party and a member of the National Assembly, hosted an “all parties conference” at the Islamabad Marriott Hotel to plan strategy for replacing the Khan government.

The opposition unanimously demands the immediate resignation of Imran Khan. To get rid of the incompetent Imran Khan-led regime, the Pakistan Democratic Movement alliance has been formed

The center-right Pakistani Muslim League (Nawaz) and Sunni Islamic Jamiat Ulema-e Islam (Fazal-ur-Rehman Group) were also among the parties attending the conference.

Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman, head of Jamiat Ulema-e Islam (F) and a harsh critic of the prime minister, read out the 26-point resolution adopted by the attendees.

“The opposition unanimously demands the immediate resignation of Imran Khan,” Rehman told reporters. “To get rid of the incompetent Imran Khan-led regime, the Pakistan Democratic Movement alliance has been formed.

“If Khan does not tender his resignation, protests will be held across the country,” he continued. “In the first phase, joint rallies will be held in the provincial capitals of Karachi, Quetta, Lahore and Peshawar in the months of October and November, followed by major demonstrations in December 2020. Meanwhile, a long march toward Islamabad will be held in January 2021.”

Rehman added that “collective resignation from the [national and provincial] assemblies was also one of the options considered.”

According to their joint statement, the opposition parties also rejected the idea of introducing a presidential system to the country, saying parliamentary democracy was what assured the country’s security.

The Pakistan Democratic Movement has yet to choose a leader.

Earlier, Mian Nawaz Sharif, one of Pakistan’s wealthiest men and a former prime minister who was sacked after allegations of corruption, based on revelations in the Panama Papers case, addressed the conference from London via video link.

In his remarks, Nawaz Sharif said, “Imran Khan is not our target. Our struggle is against those who brought Imran Khan in power.” He did not, however, specify to whom he was referring.

“I believe this is a decisive turn; it is necessary to protect democracy and take fearless decisions,” he continued, accusing the Khan government of enforcing “martial law.”

“Criminals are allowed to make amendments to the constitution and the people’s premier is expelled and his family is insulted,” Nawaz Sharif added, referring to himself.

Nawaz Sharif broke his silence and criticized Pakistan’s powerful military and civil establishment in his address to the all parties conference.

Last year, an accountability court sentenced him to seven years’ imprisonment on corruption charges. In November 2019, he went to London for medical treatment and he has yet to return. Last week, he was declared a fugitive by an Islamabad court.

Mian Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif, president of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), leader of the opposition in the National Assembly and a former chief minister of Punjab Province, said during the media briefing that “if Imran Khan’s government remains in power, the future of the country will not be secure.

“The incumbent government was ‘selected’ and cannot handle the country’s affairs, including the Kashmir and COVID-19 crises,” Shehbaz Sharif added.

Shehbaz Sharif is Nawaz Sharif’s younger brother.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the elder son of the late prime minister Benazir Bhutto and chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party, told the reporters that “the newly formed alliance wants a nonpolitical establishment, as the constitution does not allow the establishment to be involved in political matters.

“The movement will struggle not only against the Imran Khan-led government but also against the ones who selected Imran Khan and brought him into power,” Bilawal Zardari said.

Asif Ali Zardari, a former president of Pakistan and the widower of Benazir Bhutto and father of Bilawal Zardari, addressed the conference via video link from Karachi and thanked Nawaz Sharif for joining the Islamabad gathering.

Both leaders along with close family members face charges of billions’ worth of corruption.

Pakistan’s former ruling class and traditional politicians, who suffered their worst defeat in the 2018 national elections, maintain that the military and civil bureaucracy played a key role in the vote and that the Khan government was not elected by the people but rather “selected” by the powerful establishment.

95% of the politicians who attended this so-called ‘all parties conference’ have been already charged for financial corruption

Syed Ali Haider Zaidi, federal minister for maritime affairs, strongly rejected the opposition’s demand for Khan’s resignation and told The Media Line that “95% of the politicians who attended this so-called ‘all parties conference’ have been already charged for financial corruption.

“They have looted the nation’s wealth and are now trying to put pressure on the state institutions to save the looted money,” the minister said. “As far as long marches and demonstrations are concerned, it is the democratic right of the opposition [to hold them], but no one will be allowed to act above the law.

“Imran Khan in under no threat from corrupt politicians; the Khan-led government will complete its term to 2023,” Zaidi said.

Mirza Shahzad Akbar, adviser to the prime minister for accountability and interior affairs, told The Media Line that “the opposition parties want a change in the National Accountability laws and are seeking the power to appoint judges of their choosing.

“We have carried out high-level discussions with the opposition leadership for the last year on the Financial Action Task Force-related laws, but it is a shameful fact that the opposition’s main agenda was only to safeguard its corrupt leadership,” he said. “The opposition’s leadership never proposed a single suggestion that could help the country to remove it from the FATF grey list.”

The Financial Action Task Force, a Paris-based intergovernmental organization, put Pakistan on its list of “jurisdictions with strategic deficiencies,” also known as the grey list, in June 2018, for “structural deficiencies” in anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism.

Akbar further told The Media Line that “the opposition tried to stop money laundering cases against former president Asif Ali Zardari, former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Shehbaz Sharif, a former Punjab chief minister, and others, by proposing amendments to the law.

“The FATF issued a handbook with steps to stop money laundering, so our government decided to make strict amendments to the law, and we did so,” the prime minister’s adviser added.

“Imran Khan wanted Pakistan to be off the FATF grey list, whereas the opposition wants a safe exit from money laundering and corruption charges. That is the difference between a visionary leader and a corrupt political mafia,” Akbar said.

Earlier, Shibli Faraz, federal minister for information and broadcasting, said in a tweet that “the multiparty conference is “a flimsy attempt to put pressure on the government to back off on accountability.

“PM Imran Khan will never compromise his commitment to corruption. Hence no NRO,” Shibli added.

The NRO, or National Reconciliation Ordinance, was issued by then-president of Pakistan General Pervez Musharraf in 2007. It granted amnesty to politicians, political workers and bureaucrats who were accused of corruption, embezzlement, money laundering and murder, between January 1, 1986, and October 12, 1999. The Supreme Court of Pakistan declared it unconstitutional in 2009.

Speaking to The Media Line, Adeeb Safvi, a leading, Karachi-based political analyst, said the “political arena remains in the grip of ‘dynasty rulers’ and their allies, as evidenced by the recent all parties conference.

“Luckily or unluckily, the bureaucracy still believes that these ‘dynasty rulers’ will remain relevant through their next generation; hence they continue to work for them,” he added.

“The populace is not interested in knowing what damage has been done to the country by ‘dynasty rulers’” Safvi said.

In response to a question from The Media Line, Safvi said, “There is a distinct division within the opposition as well.”

“The group outside parliament led by Fazal[-ur-Rehman] want to create conditions to topple the government,” he continued. “The reason is obvious, that having enjoyed perks and privileges as parliamentarians, now it is difficult for them to reconcile with living on their own.”

“Meanwhile, the group inside the parliament does not wish to rock the boat by resigning or taking any aggressive posture,” Safvi said. “But the objective of both groups is to save their loot under the garb of strengthening democracy.”

Adil Raja, a Rawalpindi-based political commentator and security analyst, told The Media Line that “the opposition cannot be taken seriously, as the Imran Khan government successfully got critical money laundering legislation passed in the parliament, despite stiff resistance by the opposition parties now united in the all parties conference.

“The Imran Khan government enjoys the full support of the establishment in Pakistan, which is a ’make or break factor’ in our country, as has been proved historically,” he said.

“The establishment’s support for Prime Minister Imran Khan, despite his stubborn nature, comes from the fact that Imran Khan, instead of promoting a personal agenda like previous heads of governments, has kept Pakistan national interests as his top priority,” Raja said.

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