Dec 22 - 28, 2008

All Parties Conference (APC) convened by the Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to discuss the matters of National Security in view of the tirade launched by India against Pakistan in the aftermath of terrorists attacks in Mumbai proved successful beyond expectations. Not only that almost all the Chief of leading political parties in opposition personally attended the conference, they displayed a rare show of unity by extending their full support to the government and the armed forces in talking the threat arising from Indian accusations and unsubstantiated allegations against Pakistan.

While condemning the terrorists attack and sharing the grief of the people of India, APC endorsed the Government policies to extend all help and support including a joint probe offered to the Indian Government in its efforts to trace the culprits. The Conference, however, warned India against any misadventure against Pakistan under this pretext. The APC resolved that the nation will defend its honor and dignity as well as Pakistan's sovereignty, political independence and territorial integrity tidily and at all cost.

Those who attended the conference, among others, were PML-N Chief Nawaz Sharif, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar All Khan, AJK Prime Minister Sardar Atique Ahmad Khan, Maulana Fazlur Rehman (JUI-F). Dr Farooq Sattar and Syed Haider Abbas Rizvi (MQM), Haji Mohammad Adeel and Ms Bushra Gohar (ANP), Abdul Razzaq Thaheem (PML-F), Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao (PPP-S), Haji Munir Khan Orakzai, Qazi Hussain Ahmed (JI), Imran Khan (PTI), Ghvilam Mustafa Jatoi (NPP), Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain (PML-Q), Sheikh Rashid Ahmad (PML-A), Syed Nusrat Ali Shan (TI), Tahir Bizenjo (NPB), Mir Israrullah Zehri (BNP-Awami), Prof Sajid Mir (Jamiat Ahl-i-Hadith), Allama Sajid Ali Naqvi (TNF J), Dr Raheeq Abbasi (Tehkrik-i-Minhajul Quran), Syed Shujaat AU Bokhari (Pak Watan Party), Maulana Samiul Haq (JUI-S), M. Sarwat Ejaz Qadri (Sunni Tehrik), Haji Mohammad Hanif Tayyab (Tehreek-i-Nifaz-i-Islam), Qari Zawwar Bahadur (JUP-N), Rasool Bukhsh Palejo (Awami Tehrik) and Shahid Hassan Bugti (JWP). The government side was represented by Mian Raza Rabbani, Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar, Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Ms Sherry Rehman, Farooq H. Naek, Rehman Malik, Shahbaz Bhatti, Maj-Gen (retd) Mehmood Ali Durrani, Qamar Zaman Kaira and Dr Zahiruddin Babar Awan.

The Conference held at the PM House and chaired by the Prime Minister continued its deliberation for more than 5 hours. According to sources, Mian Nawaz Sharif, Qazi Hussain Ahmed and Imran Khan urged the government to continue the process of consultations on all national issues. Mr. Sharif regretted the government's "reneging on promises", including restoration of the judiciary to the pre-Nov 3 position, and agreements reached between the PPP and PML-N.

The prime minister said it was encouraging to see all major political parties united on a single "platform to face off dangers to" the integrity of the country. He praised the political parties for their unequivocal support to the Government. The meeting unanimously adopted a resolution which said: "On the invitation of the Government of Pakistan, leaders representing all political parties met in Islamabad to discuss the developments following the Mumbai carnage, including the implications for national security."

The leaders and representatives of the political parties of Pakistan unanimously underscored the following: The people of Pakistan share the grief of the people of India and extend their sympathy to the families of the victims. The conference expresses steadfast resolve of the Pakistani nation to defend its honor and dignity as well as Pakistan's sovereignty, political independence and territorial integrity.

All political parties and democratic forces firmly support the government and the armed forces in defending Pakistan's security interests. "Pakistan abhors any act of violence perpetrated against innocent persons. That the political parties take strong exception to unsubstantiated allegations made in haste against Pakistan. "The APC expresses Pakistan's desire to pursue its constructive engagement with India in a comprehensive manner with a view to building confidence and mutual trust for establishing friendly and good neighborly relations with India on the basis of Settlement all Outstanding disputes.

Prime Minister lauded the unequivocal support assured to the government on the matter of national security by political parties across the country. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Advisor to the Prime Minister on Security Mehmud All Durrani briefed the APC on the overall situation. They informed the meeting about the implications of the fallout of the Mumbai carnage that left over 172 people dead and 293 injured.

Qureshi and Sherry Rehman said that the Indian government had budged from its stance and the Indian Foreign Minister's recent statement of threatening to discontinue the peace dialogue with Pakistan was a clear deviation from his previous stance. Qureshi said the terrorists wanted to sabotage peace process between the two countries. He urged the Indian leadership to act responsibly. Sherry said the APC on National Security has highlighted the power and unity of Pakistan's democracy. In a statement issued, she said that all the political parties stand united in an effort to support the elected government to deal with any regional problem.

The political leaders have asked the government to take a respectable stance. Some of the leaders criticized the Prime Minister's earlier stance of sending the DC ISI to India, as the premature announcement badly tarnished country's image. Former minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad, while talking to reporters said that all the political forces were united to help the government in defending the motherland in this hour of trial. However, he said that the government must respect the aspirations of the people and take them into confidence while taking a position on tackling matters with India in the wake of Mumbai carnage.

Responding to a question, he said that India's demand of extraditing a number of persons was not new. "India made exactly the same demand after its parliament was attacked," he added. An ANP leader proposed that the government should not base its relations with India only by taking inputs from the bureaucracy. There is a need to engage the traders, civil society, political parties and politico-religious leader's forte roving relations with India, he opined.

The unanimous resolution adopted by the All Parties Conference in Islamabad, assuring the government and the country's armed forces of full support in the wake of the tensions created by the attack on Mumbai, comes at an opportune time.

The unusual display of unity coincides with a time when the government had begun to face increasingly vocal criticism for 'caving in' to India and had been forced to defend itself over and over again. There had been evidence that major opposition parties were attempting to exploit the situation and build additional pressure on the government, by accusing it of failing to stand up to India.

In this context, the declaration condemned the attacks and expressing grief over the deaths, while also stating Pakistan's sovereignty would be defended at all costs and taking strong exception to the unsubstantiated allegations directed at Pakistan.

Several leaders including Mian Nawaz Sharif, Qazi Hussain Ahmed and Imran Khan called for the consultative process to be continued. This an advice the government would do well to heed. In times such as these, pulling all elements in the country together is important. The demonstration of unity has also been picked up on in India. Any divisions could of course be used, to its advantage by New Delhi. The parties have also shown they are capable of acting with maturity and avoiding the temptation to score points or attempt to pull the government down ahead of all else. The bringing together of major parties at important junctures may also help us avoid descending into the bitter divide between political forces.