Imran political explosion forces Nawaz-Zardari summit

Lahore: Imran Khan`s sudden explosion on Pakistan`s political horizon seems to have shaken the country`s mainstream parties, with erstwhile foes PML-N and PPP proposing a summit, apparently to counter the threat from cricketer-turned-politician.

Khan`s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf party has created a stir by holding a string of rallies across the nation in recent weeks, drawing massive crowds. His meetings in Nawaz Sharif`s citadel Lahore and PPP stronghold of Karachi drew unprecedented response, triggering political ripples.

The advent of the cricketer has forced Sharif to tone down his criticism of the PPP-led government and its chief, President Asif Ali Zardari, in recent days, with political sources saying that this may pave the way for a meeting of the top leaders of the two parties. "There is a likelihood of President Zardari and Nawaz Sharif having a meeting in the near future," Navid Chaudhry, an aide to the President, told PTI.

In a sharp change of strategy, PML-N chief has now turned his guns on the cricketer-turned-politician, charging that his party was being backed by the security establishment – an indirect reference to the powerful army.

Chaudhry, while pointing to a meeting between Sharif and Zardari, claimed that the ice had melted between the two. He said the indications to this were Zardari`s praise of Sharif in his December 27 speech on the death anniversary of former premier Benazir Bhutto.

Zardari`s gesture was reciprocated by Sharif at a public meeting in Karachi, where he stopped PML-N supporters from shouting "Go Zardari go". While distancing himself from speculation that a Sharif-Zardari summit was prompted by the waves created by Khan`s sudden popularity, Chaudhry said the meeting had nothing to do with this.

"I think the country is facing a host of crises and it is very important that the leadership of two main parties should sit together and find solutions to steer the country out of these. Their meeting will also have a positive impact on the country`s politics," he said. The PPP has always believed in the politics of reconciliation, Chaudhry said.

Sharif had been targeting the PPP-led government since the PML-N parted ways with the ruling coalition at the centre in 2008 over the issue of restoring judges who were sacked by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf.

Of late, the top leadership of the PPP has severely criticised Sharif for filing a petition in the Supreme Court seeking an inquiry into the allege memo that sought US help to stave off a military takeover in Pakistan. However, the rising popularity of Imran Khan?s party has forced the PPP and PML-N to revisit their strategy towards each other.

Both the PPP and PML-N believe that Khan and his party have the backing of the security establishment and would be the ultimate beneficiary in upcoming elections if they continue fighting each other. "Who knows if the PPP and PML-N will agree on a seat adjustment formula in the next election," Tehrik-e-Insaf information secretary Shafqat Mahmood remarked.