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PM’s Karachi visit: meeting with CM not on schedule

PM’s Karachi visit: meeting with CM not on schedule

ISLAMABAD/KARACHI: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will spend the whole day in Karachi on Monday, but a schedule for the visit released by his office did not include any meeting with Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah or chairing of any meeting on the law and order situation in the city.

The prime minister’s only possible interaction with the chief minister, according to an official at the PM Office, will be at the airport, where Mr Shah will receive Mr Sharif as per the official protocol.

“As far as the agenda for the day is concerned, the prime minister has three back-to-back engagements, which don’t include a meeting with the Sindh CM on the issue of Rangers’ powers,” the official said.

But circles close to the PML-N appear optimistic that Mr Sharif will hold a meeting with Governor Dr Ishratul Ibad at the airport. The Karachi corps commander and the director general of Rangers may also join the deliberations in a bid to sort out what the chief minister described recently as a minor misunderstanding over Rangers’ powers.

The prime minister will also try to resolve differences between the chief minister and Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, who is accompany the premier.

PML-N Sindh chapter president Ismail Rahu neither denied nor endorsed reports about the likely meeting between the prime minister and the chief minister, saying official sources expressed their ignorance about the meeting.

Sources in the PML-N and PPP said meeting or no meeting, the top leadership from two sides will be able to resolve the issue without further confrontation.

On Friday, the federal government formally issued a controversial notification giving legal cover to Rangers’ policing powers in Sindh.

A special assistant to the prime minister told Dawn that in case the two sides continued to differ with each other on the arrangement, the maximum step the Sindh government could take was to move a court of law for redress of its grievances.

Senator Farooq H. Naek, who advises the party leadership on legal matters, reportedly discussed with PPP Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari the Sindh government’s possible future course of action.

Talking to Dawn, the PPP senator said he had been called to Dubai by the party leadership to discuss the issue of Rangers’ powers. “As a lawyer, I have given my honest opinion on the matter and now it’s up to the Sindh government and the party leadership to decide their next move,” Mr Naek said.

“If one goes by the tone and tenor adopted by PPP leaders, including its Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, on the occasion of Benazir Bhutto’s death anniversary, it seems the standoff between the Sindh and federal governments over the issue of Rangers’ powers will further intensify in coming days,” said a PML-N office-bearer.

The PPP leaders, in their speeches, criticised the federal government’s economic policies, ‘selected use’ of the National Action Plan (NAP) and its ‘soft treatment’ of various extremist organisations which Mr Bilawal alleged “have safe hideouts in Punjab”.

According to the PML-N office-bearer, the two sides may continue their verbal attacks against each other, but will avoid brinkmanship as it will only benefit other parties, including the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf. “The PPP leadership may have concerns against Rangers, but it is also a fact that the ongoing operation in Karachi has brought about a significant improvement in the city’s law and order condition. Therefore, I believe both Sind and federal governments have to live with the operation,” he said.

A senior PPP leader, who is well connected to Mr Zardari, told Dawn that there was an agreement within the party that the issue should be resolved politically and through dialogue instead of confrontation in courts or at other forums.

The official press release said: “PM Nawaz Sharif will visit Karachi on Monday (today). He will have three official engagements: visit Port Qasim Authority to review development plans of the authority; review Port Qasim’s power project and address an FPCCI function.”

When further pressed, the PM Office’s official said he was not aware if the Sindh chief minister was invited to any of the three events, where the two could exchange their views on the issue of extension of policing powers to Rangers by the centre.

The prime minister will fly to Karachi from Lahore where he had an extended weekend to attend the marriage ceremony of his granddaughter and celebrate his birthday. The Indian prime minister’s stopover in Lahore and short trip to Jati Umra was also highlight of Mr Sharif’s stay in the provincial capital.

The official said Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Water and Power and Defence Minister Khawaja Asif and Trade and Commerce Minister Khurram Dastgir would accompany the prime minister during his visit to Karachi.

The deployment of Rangers in Karachi is requisitioned under Article 147 of the Constitution. And under Clause 1 of Sub-section 3 of Section 4 of the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997, the paramilitary force is authorised to prevent the commission of terrorist acts or scheduled offences.

Senator Aitzaz Ahsan of the PPP argued that invoking of Article 147 stopped the federal government from using provisions of ATA 1997.

Published in Dawn, December 28th, 2015

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