Gilani, Sharif to meet over lunch Sunday


Islamabad :In a clear indication that their once strained ties were on the mend, opposition leader Nawaz Sharif has accepted Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s invitation for lunch on Sunday.

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The invitation came during the course of a telephone call to Sharif that Gilani initiated Friday.

Analysts here noted that the meeting would give the two leaders an opportunity to discuss the return of Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) to Gilani’s ruling coalition.

What is also likely to be discussed is the restoration of Sharif’s brother Shahbaz Sharif’s provincial government in Punjab, which collapsed after the Supreme Court last month cited corruption charges to bar the Sharif brothers from contesting elections.

The Pakistani government has already filed an appeal against this in the Supreme Court.

Gilani, in an interview to the Wall Street Journal, has indicated that he would be more than willing for the PML-N to return to the government.

“We are committed to changing the system,” Gilani said in the interview published Thursday, adding: “My main endeavour is to end the politics of confrontation.”

“I am sure we can work with Nawaz Sharif in strengthening the democratic process,” Gilani maintained.

“I hope we will go back to our relations,” Gilani told the WSJ.

“I can offer Nawaz Sharif to join the coalition at an appropriate time…. That shows our resolve for the reconciliation.”

Sharif had last week led a laywers’ ‘long march’ to demand the reinstatement of chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhury and the 60-odd judges of the apex and high courts then president Pervez Musharraf had sacked after declaring an emergency Nov 3, 2007.

The government announced Monday that the judges would be restored, following which Sharif called off the ‘long march’.

The judges issue had soured relations for over a year between Sharif’s PML-N and Gilani’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) that had come together to form a coalition after the February 2008 general elections.

The two parties had even agreed to a governance agenda that included the restoration of the judges and the repeal of the controversial 17 amendments Musharraf had rammed through in 2003, transferring most of the prime ministerial powers to the presidency.

Zardari’s reneging on the pledges prompted the PML-N to walk out of the coalition.

The repeal of the 17th amendment was among the demands of the protesting lawyers but this got swept under the larger issue of the judges’ reinstatement.

Gilani indicated during the interview that it was very much on the agenda.

“We need to implement the charter of democracy signed by two former prime ministers,” said Gilani, referring to the pact Sharif and Benazir Bhutto had signed shortly before the latter was slain Dec 27, 2007.