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Zardari uses charm, Fazl stonewalls

ISLAMABAD: The political machinations that started after the JUI-F’s decision to quit the ruling coalition gathered pace on Saturday with PPP making another unsuccessful attempt to charm Maulana Fazlur Rehman into softening his hard line and leaders of different political parties getting in touch with each other to discuss possible future scenarios.

Zardari uses charm, Fazl stonewallsThe day-long activities culminated at the gathering of the country’s top political leadership, including the chief of Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) Nawaz Sharif, on one table at the official banquet dinner hosted by President Asif Ali Zardari for the visiting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.

Although, unlike the past, all the leaders showed political maturity by accepting the President’s invitation for an official dinner in honour of the leader of a friendly country, the mistrust and differences that have dominated political developments of late were evident, particularly on the face of PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif, sitting next to President Asif Zardari.

Mr Sharif, ANP chief Asfandyar Wali, MQM deputy convener Dr Farooq Sattar, JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Opposition Leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, PPP-S chief Aftab Sherpao, Awami Muslim League chief Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, PML-Q president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, Makhdoom Amin Fahim and all the services chief, including COAS Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, sat on the main rectangular table with President Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani and Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier.

One participant claimed that after departure of Mr Wen, President Zardari had a chat with Maulana Fazlur Rehman, obviously asking the Maulana to reconsider his decision of parting ways with him.

President Zardari had deputed Federal Minister for Commerce Makhdoom Amin Fahim, PPP secretary general Jahangir Badar and information secretary Fauzia Wahab to receive Mr Sharif at the entrance of the Presidency and to accompany him to the official table of the main guests.

All these leaders are expected to gather again on Sunday morning when the Chinese prime minister will address the joint sitting of Parliament.

Earlier in the day, sources in the JUI-F told Dawn that Awami National Party (ANP) president Asfandyar Wali Khan and Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik met JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman separately and made another attempt to bring the Maulana back into the government fold.

The sources said the JUI-F chief had told both Mr Khan and Mr Rehman that his party would not reverse its decision of quitting the coalition government.

However, according to the sources, the interior minister had requested the Maulana not to submit any application to the National Assembly speaker for sitting on opposition benches, to which he told the minister that he would respond after consultations with his party.

Government sources are terming it an achievement and are still hopeful that the Maulana will return to the treasury benches.

The first formal bid of the ruling PPP to bring the JUI-F back to the government-fold had remained unsuccessful on Wednesday when Maulana Fazlur Rehman told a PPP team headed by Labour Minister Syed Khurshid Shah that his party’s decision was “final and irreversible.”

The JUI-F had announced to come out of the 33-month-old coalition government when Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani sacked Religious Affairs Minister Hamid Saeed Kazmi of the PPP and Science and Technology Minister Azam Khan Swati of the JUI-F for violating the discipline and issuing statements against each other over the issue of alleged corruption and mismanagement in the Haj affairs.

On Dec 15, the Urban Sindh-based Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) also gave a 10-day ultimatum to the PPP to come out with an explanation on the “provocative speech” of the provincial home minister Dr Zulfiqar Mirza in which he had held the MQM responsible for the target killings in Karachi city.

The MQM wants the PPP leadership to explain whether the minister’s statement was his personal act or it was in line with the party policy.

An MQM delegation, to be headed by Dr Farooq Sattar, is expected to meet Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Sunday and later with President Zardari on Monday.

Meanwhile, in another development, MQM Senator and federal minister Babar Ghouri met JUI-F leader Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haidri at a local hotel in Islamabad.

It may be recalled that MQM chief Altaf Hussain had already made telephonic contacts with a number of key political leaders in the country in the past two days.

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