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Pakistan: Bilawal likely to meet Nawaz Sharif in London to discuss ‘current political situation’

PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Wednesday is headed to London where he is expected to meet PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif to “discuss the current political situation” of Pakistan, a day after he excused himself from taking the oath as the foreign minister, leading to speculation that all allies of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif are not on the same page.

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) — the two main political parties —  have been alternatively in power when the military was not ruling the country. The powerful Army has ruled the coup-prone country for more than half of its 75 plus years of existence.

Confirming Bilawal’s departure for London, PPP Secretary-General Farhatullah Babar said the main purpose of meeting Nawaz Sharif, the elder brother of Shehbaz Sharif, is to congratulate him on the coalition government and “discuss the current political situation”, the News International newspaper reported.

Nawaz Sharif — against whom several corruption cases were launched by the government of former prime minister Imran Khan — had left for London in November 2019 after the Lahore High Court granted him a four-week permission allowing him to go abroad for his treatment.

Nawaz Sharif, 72, had given an undertaking to the Lahore High Court to return to Pakistan, citing his record to face the process of law and justice within four weeks or as soon as he is declared healthy and fit to travel by doctors. He was also given bail in the Al-Azizia Mills corruption case in which he was serving seven-year imprisonment in Lahore’s high-security Kot Lakhpat jail.

Quoting sources, the News report said Bilawal’s not taking oath as the foreign minister, despite attending the Cabinet oath-taking ceremony as a guest, meant there was some issue in the coalition government and he wanted to resolve it first.

PPP is the second-largest party in the current coalition government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif who was appointed on April 11. The Cabinet formation was delayed for days due to differences among the coalition parties, mainly due to the initial refusal by the PPP to join the Cabinet. However, Shehbaz Sharif ensured that Bilawal’s party joined his government.

But the absence of Bilawal — the son of former two-time prime minister Benazir Bhutto and former president Asif Ali Zardari — in the first phase of Cabinet formation on Tuesday raised many eyebrows. Sources in the PPP said Bilawal, 33, is still reluctant to join the Cabinet because it may hinder his political activities ahead of elections which are likely to be held by the end of the year. But Shehbaz Sharif, 70, is adamant that he should join.

Quoting sources, the News said Bilawal wanted to discuss major issues with Nawaz Sharif for their amicable solution. Bilawal also wanted to take up the non-inclusion of Awami National Party (ANP), Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-Mengal) and Moshin Dawar in the Cabinet with Nawaz Sharif, the sources said.

“If all goes well in talks with Nawaz Sharif, it is expected that Bilawal may take the oath as foreign minister on his return from London,” the report quoted the sources as saying.