Pakistani opposition boycotts Saudi reception


Islamabad : Upset over Saudi Arabia’s role in the deportation of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, the entire opposition stayed away from the national day reception hosted by the kingdom’s ambassador Tuesday.

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“Observant guests at the reception thought events surrounding Nawaz Sharif had cast a shadow on the celebration of the national day of a country which inspires reverence in Muslims everywhere, not just in Pakistan,” Dawn reported Wednesday.

“Diplomats of many countries were heard whispering Mr. Sharif’s name but no one was willing to say anything to the journalists snooping around for some comment on Monday’s high drama at the Islamabad airport (when Sharif dramatically returned from exile but was sent packing to Saudi Arabia),” the newspaper noted.

“Today is our national day and I don’t want to discuss politics,” Ambassador Ali Awadh Asseri said.

“No politics,” he retorted when asked if he was aware that the people were angry and openly criticising Saudi Arabia’s role in the Sharif episode, but added: “I will definitely speak on the issue sometime later”.

The reception was its usual glittering affair, with diplomats and the elite of Pakistan’s civil and military establishment present in full force at the Marriott Hotel.

Security was, however, tighter than usual, apparently prompted by fears that Sharif’s supporters might stage a protest at the spot.

Contingents of heavily armed Punjab and Islamabad police were deployed around the hotel and intelligence sleuths kept a watch both inside and outside the building.

Earlier in the day, the local leadership of the opposition All Parties Democratic Movement (APDM) staged a protest rally outside the press club building. For the first time in the history of Pakistan, opposition leaders openly criticised Saudi Arabia for supporting “a military dictator”.

One of the speakers even demanded that a kidnapping case be registered against Saudi prince Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz and Lebanese politician Saad Hariri who urged Sharif to stay away from Pakistan.