By Khawar Ghumman
29 September 2011
Islamabad: The federal capital hosts the biggest-ever political gathering for many years when leaders of almost all political and religious organisations meet on Thursday at an All-Party Conference convened by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to discuss the situation arising out of serious allegations levelled by US officials against Pakistan’s armed forces and its intelligence agency, the ISI.
The nation has pinned great hopes on leaders representing all shades of opinion to evolve a framework for the country’s foreign and security policies and to set direction for its progress on genuinely independent lines.
The top military leadership invited to the conference may face some tough questions, especially from the PML-N chief, Mian Nawaz Sharif, and leaders of nationalist and religious parties about what is considered to be ambiguous relationship with the West, particularly the United States, and military’s engagement on western borders.
The conference has one-point agenda — national security in the aftermath of security challenges emerging from outside the country.
Because of the US allegations that the ISI is hand in glove with the Haqqani network, the two countries are facing a tough challenge to keep their alliance intact in the so-called war against terrorism.
Chief of Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Gen Khalid Shameem Wynne will attend the conference while ISI Director General Lt-Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha is expected to make a detailed presentation on national security concerns besetting the country vis-à-vis US interests in Afghanistan.
It will be an in-camera briefing, but Mr Sharif has made his intentions clear by saying that will not only raise all important issues and ask tough questions, but also address the media after the conference.
Private TV channels quoted him as saying that “real hard facts” should be shared with the political leadership of the country.
Talking to Dawn, PML-N’s spokesperson Senator Mushahidullah Khan said Mr Sharif and the Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan would ensure that something concrete came out of the APC.
He said the party leadership had decided to fully participate in the conference because the nature of tension between Pakistan and the US had risen to the maximum. He said the PPP-led government had developed so many grey areas that nothing positive could be expected from it.
Since his return from exile in Saudi Arabia in 2007, Mr Sharif has been critical of the army’s overwhelming role in the country’s foreign and defence policies. And there is a perception that because of this he is no more welcome in the military establishment.
Nationalist parties in Balochistan have also expressed reservations over the military’s role in the province. They are likely raise the issue at the conference which, observers suggest, may include target killings in Karachi and lawlessness in Balochistan.
It will be the third APC under the present government. The first was held on Dec 2, 2008, in the aftermath of Mumbai attacks when India threatened to take punitive actions. The conference presided over by the prime minister had lasted more than five hours.
A seven-point declaration issued after the conference stated that the leaders and representatives of political parties unanimously condemned the Mumbai attacks and expressed unwavering resolve of the Pakistani nation to defend its honour and dignity, sovereignty, political independence and territorial integrity. It said all political parties and democratic forces firmly supported the government and the armed forces in defending Pakistan’s security.
The second APC was held on May 18, 2009, which lasted about nine hours. Its 16-point resolution unanimously backed the government’s counter-insurgency operation in Swat and Malakand division and resolved to try to unite the nation in the face of insurgency.
To come up with such sweeping resolutions at Thursday’s APC will be a tough call for the participants because the US has been an ally of Pakistan for a long time and particularly after 9/11. Besides receiving military and economic aid, Pakistan heavily banks on the US for its exports. America is the main trading partner of Pakistan and, therefore, economic managers of the country will advise the participants to take a moderate line in the final resolution.
The APC is expected to be attended by about 55 leaders who will be briefed not only by security officials but also by ministers of foreign and interior affairs and finance.
According to a spokesman of the Prime Minister House, political leaders who have confirmed their participation are:
PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif, PML-Q President Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, MQM’s Haider Abbas Rizvi, ANP President Asfandyar Wali Khan, JUI-F Amir Maulana Fazlur Rehman, PML-F’s Haji Khuda Bux Rajar, Fata MNA Haji Munir Khan Aurakzai, PPP-S chief Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao, Ghulam Murtaza Khan Jatoi of the National People’s Party, Senator Mir Israrullah Zehri of BNP-A, Jamaat-i-Islami Amir Syed Munawar Hassan, former prime minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, PKMAP chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai, Senator Salim Saifullah Khan of PML (like-minded), PML-A chief Sheikh Rashid Ahmad, PTI chief Imran Khan, Hasil Khan Bazenjo of NPB, Allama Sajid Ali Naqvi of TJP, Senator Shahid Hassan Bugti of JWP, Dr Tahir-ul- Qadri of Tahrik-i-Minhajul Quran, Hamid Ali Shah Moosvi of TNFJ, Maulana Sami-ul-Haq of JUI-S, Sarwat Ejaz Qadri of Sunni Tahrik, Muhammad Hanif Tayyab of Nizam-i-Mustafa Party, Sahibzada Abu Khair Muhammad Zubair of JUP-N, Pir Fazal Haq of Jamiat Mashaikh, Sahibzada Muhammad Fazal Karim of Sunni Ittehad Council, Dr Paul Bhatti, Adviser to the Prime Minister on National Harmony, Ameer Hussain Gilani, Mufti Feroze Din Hazarvi of Muttahida Ulema Forum, Abdul Qadeer Khamosh, Allama Tahir Ashrafi of Ulema Council Bait-ul-Aman, Sardar Attique Ahmad Khan, former AJK prime minister and Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, Leader of Opposition in Senate.