LAHORE - In an obvious reference to the country’s establishment, PPP supremo Asif Ali Zardari has said that “Angles” will play a significant role in the coming elections – which he believes will throw a hung parliament, thereby paving the way for a government of national consensus.

PPP de-facto chief is also apprehensive of new religious parties’ participation in the July 25 polls which he considers would prove disastrous for the country.

And if no single party is in a position to form government after the polls, Zardari is willing to support the PML-N – though on his own terms this time.

The former president spoke his mind in a panel interview with The Nation and Nawa-i-Waqt at Bilawal House Lahore Sunday evening. The questioners included The Nation Editor Salim Bokhari, Nawa-i-Waqt Deputy Chief Reporter Syed Shoaib-ud-Din Ahmad and this scribe.

“ROs (Returning Officers) had manoeuvred the elections in 2013 and I had therefore dubbed those as ROs’ elections. Now, ‘Angles’ are going to assume the same [role] in 2018 elections,” he said, casting suspicions on the fairness of the polls.

He informed the interviewers that he had called a party meeting at Bilawal House Lahore on Tuesday (tomorrow) to chalk out party’s strategy to confront the ‘ongoing pre-poll rigging’ by the invisible forces.

“The meeting would ponder over complaints [of pre-poll rigging] coming from [all] the four provinces and then send a note to the Election Commission,” he said.

Asif Ali Zardari said his party had already written a letter to the ECP with the complaint that present FIA DG should be removed since his brother was contesting the elections.

On Shehbaz Sharif’s recent statement that no party could resolve country’s problems single-handedly and that a national government should be formed after the polls, PPP leader replied that actually he [Zardari] was the first who had floated this idea after the 2013 elections.

“But I think Shehbaz Sharif is saying so in anticipation of his party’s poor performance in the coming elections. His party would not be able to get the required number to form government on its own,” he added.

PPP leader was confident that no party will be able to form the government single-handedly after the polls. “It has to be a collation government”, he stressed.

Asked if the PPP would extend a lending hand to PML-N to form government, he replied in affirmative but hurried to add that this time around PPP would set its own terms and condition in exchange for cooperation.

“I am a politician and cannot erect walls to stay away from the political forces. If Shehbaz comes to me, he would have to support me this time,” Zardari observed.

“Why it should always be we supporting them and eventually be left in the lurch when they [PML-N] are out of the trouble?” he asked, adding that he would dictate his own ToRs (Terms of Reference) this time. “Otherwise, we will be quite ok sitting on the opposition benches”, he further remarked.

Asked if the PPP would be able to secure 10 seats from Punjab in the coming polls and how it would achieve this, he smilingly said: “Why should I reveal my party’s strategy about the polls. If I tell you about it, my opponents will intensify efforts to undo my party’s planning in this regard.”

He said Mian Nawaz Sharif is undergoing difficult times at the moment because of his own follies.

“It cannot always be the case that if he is in trouble, we must save him and when he is out of the mess he would start biting us,” he said and quoted the famous tale of a frog and a scorpion who were to pass through a stream.

“The scorpion requested the frog to take him across a stream on his back and pledged not to sting him. But while in the middle of the stream the scorpion stung the frog. When the frog asked him why he broke his pledge, the scorpion replied that it was his nature to sting,” he narrated the account likening Nawaz with a scorpion who could not go against its nature.

On his ‘philosophy’ of national reconciliation, Zardari said he still believed in it but it should be achieved through Parliament.

“When I assumed charge as president, some bureaucrats came to me and said the country was in great danger and needed to be saved. I said it was not their job to save the country but that of the parliament. We can tackle the issues by strengthening the parliament. I have surrendered all presidential powers to the parliament which should in turn save the democracy and strengthen the country, but it may take some time”, he said, admitting that he failed to convince them.

Answering a question about his party’s reconciliation with the establishment, he said his PPP was not on cordial terms with it. “Had we been in a pleasant relationship with them, FIA would not have arrested Hussain Lawai”, he argued.

Zardari said that Lawai has been arrested to prevent the possible merger of Summit bank with the Sindh Bank. “Perhaps they [the establishment] did not want this merger”. He said Sindh Bank never saw insolvency like Punjab Bank, which has faced bankruptcy twice. “To stop Sindh Bank from progressing is tantamount to stopping Sindh’s progress”, he affirmed.

He said his Munshi (Manager) was arrested from interior Sindh where the Rangers had no mandate to go. But they still did it while ignoring banned religious outfits operating there, he added.

“My friends are also being targeted and it is not a new thing for the PPP. We have always faced such situations”, he said, adding that it all started with the arrests of Asim Hussain, Sharjeel Memon and others.

“But it happens in politics”, Asif Zardari said with a smile on his face.

To a question about PPP’s strategy to counter the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) in Sindh, he said: “They had been using Pagara Saab against us since long. Previously it was all done in a sophisticated manner but now it is being done in an awkward way. Pir Saab (late) was a gentleman man who would not go to such great lengths in cooperating with the establishment. We will face this alliance politically. PPP is watching [all developments]”, he stated.

Asked to comment on the turncoats who have joined the PTI ahead of the polls, the PPP leader said that the seasonal birds had now become pure after taking bath in Ganges [of PTI]. “As long as they were with us, they were thieves and dacoits”, he said.

He also said that the MQM, the PTI and the PML-N were not political parties. “They were made [by some forces] to achieve certain objectives”, he averred, adding that the PPP, the JI, the JUI-F and the ANP were the only real political parties in Pakistan.

To a question about the new religious parties taking part in the coming elections, he said it was not a good omen for the country. “It is a dangerous game. It would have dangerous consequences for the country in the times to come”.

According to him, the issue of Khatm-e-Nabuwat surfaced due to incompetence and poor handling [of issues] by Mian Nawaz Sharif. It also happened due to Mian Saab’s continuous absence from the parliament, he said.

“These religious forces have a marshal mindset who wanted to overcome the political forces. We have to live in this country. Our children will also live here. They [establishment] should not encourage these forces as they would become a problem later on”, he said.

Taking about his reconciliation policy, Zardari said his party had enough seats to make government in Punjab in 2008 but it preferred to form coalition government for the sake of democracy. “To my astonishment, the PML-N took away the entire goat leaving nothing for the PPP”, he said in lighter vein though.

To a question about Sharif family’s likely arrest on arrival from London, he said they would be arrested but will be granted bail very soon. He held Nawaz responsible for all his troubles and accused him of weakening democracy.

He believed the PML-N supermo had united his opponents through his unwise decisions. “If he started confrontation with the judges, they were bound to seek protection from somebody; but he was unmindful of the fact that he would suffer a loss. Whenever we [PPP] fought with a dictator, we kept aloof from the institution (army) and never held it responsible. We always fought against a person”, he remarked.

Asked about former Punjab chief minister and PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif’s conduct during these hard times, he said, “Shehbaz is doing shadow boxing.”

Zardari said petrol was selling at $35 a barrel when Nawaz Sharif was in power. “He (Nawaz) could have generated electricity from cheap oil and then supplied it to 150 textile mills of Faisalabad which had been closed. He could have then recovered the amount from the millers in the form taxes”, he said, while highlighting the misplaced priorities of Nawaz government.

On CPEC, he said the PPP government had designed it in a way that China would make all the investment and Pakistan will also make the profits out of it. “But they [PML-N] reversed the entire project. We wanted to deal with them in their own currency instead of dollar, but they did just the opposite. It is like putting the horse behind the cart”, he observed. He added that PPP government had also plans to set up industrial zones along the CPEC route.

To a question what guided him to surrender all the presidential powers to the parliament in 2010, he said: “I was sitting on the chair of ZA Bhutto and Shaheed BB. I could not deviate from their philosophy. All would say I should stay as the strongest civilian president, but I was not misled by it”, he explained.

On Iran-Pakistan Gas Pipe Line project, he said it was not a big issue for the Americans. “We could have convinced them as they had already planned to lift sanctions on Iran. Actually they [PML-N leadership] wanted to import expensive LNG from Qatar which was also available in Sindh, KP and Balochistan”.

“If we have to strengthen the federation, we will have to strengthen all the provinces.

To a question about his party’s initiative to reconcile with estranged Baloch leaders, he said the previous government did not do a follow up of PPP’s actions. He also held some internal and external players responsible for sabotaging the peace process in Balochistan.

He said it was his party’s sincere desire that there should be peace in Balochistan. “We allocated substantial funds for development, but it transpired later on they had been embezzled. They did not reach the masses”, he lamented.

On formation of smaller provinces, Zardari said that KP and Sindh were already smaller provinces unlike Punjab where new provinces could be carved out for better governance. He said Hazara will be too small a province.

He argued that if new provinces were created in Sindh and KP it will involve a lot of money to establish a complete new set up there.