Leaders of a number of parties said that although the PPP’s second-tier leadership had tried to undo the damage that was reportedly caused by Mr Zardari’s fiery speech during a party convention held on June 16, he had continued in the same vein in a subsequent speech on the occasion of the late Benazir Bhutto’s birth anniversary on June 21.
PML-Q President Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, who was one of the first leaders to arrive at the PPP Iftar-dinner at Zardari House on June 19 and held an extended one-to-one meeting with the PPP chief, said, “I advised Mr Zardari to actively engage in damage control, but he did not respond to me at that time.”
He said that the PPP co-chairman should not have repeated his ‘thorny remarks’ at Ms Bhutto’s birth anniversary at Garhi Khuda Baksh.
The PML-Q chief said that Bilawal Bhutto was present at their meeting but remained expressionless and did not talk to his father throughout the meeting.
Speaking to Dawn after the Iftar-dinner at Zardari House earlier this month, Qamar Zaman Kaira had said that Mr Zardari was asked by political leaders to stick to a reconciliatory stance.
PPP Spokesperson Farhatullah Babar, however, said that since no party statement was issued after that meeting, it was difficult to say what advice Mr Zardari had actually received from the heads of political parties. “It was, in fact, a social gathering where nearly every issue was discussed.”
He said claims that the PPP co-chairman was asked to refrain from giving anti-establishment statements were “hypothetical”.
JUI-F Spokesperson Jan Achakzai, who had accompanied his party chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman to the Iftar-dinner, said he believed that the PPP had toned down its rhetoric following Mr Zardari’s outburst.
He said in his view Mr Zardari had not blamed the military establishment as a whole in his June 21 speech, but had only criticised the former military ruler Pervez Musharraf.
“I believe that the PPP has backtracked from Mr Zardari’s inflexible attitude as many leaders later clarified that Mr Zardari had not targeted the army or current Chief of Army Staff Gen Raheel Sharif, but rather spoke about retired army generals who ran the worst kind of dictatorship in the country,” the JUI-F spokesman said.