ISLAMABAD: The first formal bid by the Pakistan People’s Party to bring the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam back into the government’s fold remained unsuccessful on Wednesday as JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman told a PPP team that his party’s decision to quit the coalition was “final and irreversible”.
“The decision to part ways with the government will not be changed,” Maulana Fazl said while talking to reporters after holding talks with a three-member PPP delegation, headed by Labour Minister Syed Khurshid Shah.
Mr Shah has been given the additional charge of religious affairs after the sacking of Hamid Saeed Kazmi and the minister for science and technology, Azam Swati, by the prime minister following the outcry over the Haj scam.
Hours earlier, Maulana Fazl had held a news conference along with Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) chief Munawar Hassan, former chief Qazi Hussain Ahmed and other religious parties’ leaders after attending a Namoos-i-Risalat conference.
Mr Shah had gone to meet the JUI-F chief immediately after attending a cabinet meeting where all the ministers unanimously endorsed Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s decision to remove their two colleagues.
Having received a cold shoulder from the JUI-F, the government, however, got a 10-day breathing space from another coalition partner, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, which sought an explanation from the PPP leadership on a “provocative speech” by Sindh Home Minister Dr Zulfikar Mirza who had held the MQM responsible for targeted killings in Karachi.
The MQM asked the PPP to explain whether the minister’s statement was his personal opinion or was it in line with his party’s policy.
Maulana Fazl said the JUI-F saw no justification in the government’s claim that the prime minister had sacked the two members for violating discipline.
“He had not violated any directives of the prime minister. He did not hold any news conference or participate in any TV talk show.”
He said the Supreme Court had taken suo motu notice of the Haj scam and Mr Swati had no choice but to appear before it.
The JUI-F chief said decorum demanded that the prime minister should have contacted the party’s leadership before taking action against the minister. “Despite having differences on a number of issues, we remained with the government for the sake of reconciliation. But now the government has itself killed hopes of reconciliation,” he said.
The Maulana said he had told the PPP that it was too late and his party won’t go back on its decision. However, he added, his party would continue to work for democracy.
On the other hand, Khurshid Shah expressed optimism that the efforts to bring the JUI-F back into the coalition would succeed. He said the PPP had been enjoying a good relationship with the JUI-F for many years.
Mr Khurshid said the PPP would continue to pursue its policy of reconciliation. Senator Sardar Ali and President Asif Zardari’s adviser Qayyum Soomro accompanied the labour minister.
Earlier, Maulana Fazl was warmly greeted by Jamaat-i-Islami’s leaders at the Namoos-i-Risalat conference. He and Qazi Hussain also discussed the prospects of reviving the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) — an alliance of religious parties.
The presence of Pakistan Muslim League-Q chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain added to the event’s political significance.
Talking to reporters, Chaudhry Shujaat said he had talked to Maulana Fazl on the latest political developments and the JUI-F chief appeared determined this time to stick to his decision of quitting the government.
Sources told Dawn that the PPP had also established contacts with members of the dissident ‘likeminded’ group of the PML-Q in order to dent the opposition’s ranks and offset any setback in the event of an MQM pullout from the coalition.
However, the terms and conditions of the negotiations are unclear as the PML-Q dissidents have declared that they will oppose the reformed general sales tax bill in the National Assembly.
Political observers believe that an announcement by Maulana Fazl of a plan to launch a protest campaign jointly with other religious parties will provide an opportunity to the leadership of the parties to sit together and sort out their differences which had arisen before the 2008 elections.
Zulqernain Tahir adds from Lahore: The PPP is hopeful that Maulana Fazl may rejoin the federal government after meeting the PPP leadership at a banquet to be hosted in honour of Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao later this week.
“Although no headway has been made in our talks, Maulana Fazl has consented to attending the reception being held in honour of the Chinese premier and we are optimistic that his party will be back in government after the event,” Dr Qayyum Soomro said.
Dr Soomro has met Maulana Fazl and other senior leaders of the JUI-F on behalf of President Zardari.
“Maulana Fazl has complained that his party should have been taken into confidence before removal of Mr Swati,” he said.
Dr Soomro said the Maulana “has not set any conditions” for rejoining the government.
“Basically, Maulana sahib is unhappy for not having been consulted and we are trying to make him realise that violation of discipli.