A nervy government on Monday maneuvered to win over a hostile opposition threatening to �disrupt� President Asif Ali Zardari�s annual address to a joint sitting of parliament but there was hardly any breakthrough. In an effort to persuade the Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz (PML-N) President Zardari telephoned the party�s supremo Nawaz Sharif, who is in London for medical treatment. A brief statement issued by the president�s media office did not say what transpired in the Monday night telephonic conversation. �President Asif Ali Zardari telephoned Nawaz Sharif in London a short while ago and enquired about his health,� the statement said. However, insiders said the two leaders also discussed the president�s scheduled address to the joint sitting of the National Assembly and the Senate. It is unclear whether or not Sharif committed anything to President Zardari. Separately, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani chaired a meeting of the parliamentary leaders of the coalition partners, including the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), which until Sunday was indecisive on whether or not to attend the session. Gilani told the participants that the president�s address was a manifestation of the fact that democratic norms were gaining strength in the country. �It�s unfortunate that the president did not address a joint sitting of parliament in nine years during the previous regime, though it�s a constitutional requirement,� he added. The meeting was attended by Minister for Commerce Makhdoom Amin Fahim, Minister for Food and Agriculture Israrul lah Zehri (BNP), Leader of House in Senate Syed Nayyer Hus sain Bokhari, Senator Shahid Hussain Bugti (JWP), Senator Haji Muhammad Adeel (ANP), Engineer Malik Rashid Ahmed Khan (FATA), and MNAs Asfandyar Wali (ANP), Dr Farooq Sattar (MQM), Jahangir Khan Tareen (PML-F), Sajid Hussain Turi (FATA) and Yaqoob Bizanjo (BNP-A). According to officials, the prime minister also contacted key opposition leaders but the outcome was not known immediately. Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, spoke to leaders of the PML-Q, JUI-F and some smaller opposition parties and invited them for a joint parliamentary party meeting before the start of the session. PML-N�s information secretary Ahsan Iqbal told The Express Tribune that his party would announce its strategy after the parliamentary party meeting. He conceded difference of opinion in his party on the matter: some members want the party to boycott the session, while others favour registering protest inside parliament. However, Iqbal said that Chaudhry Nisar is contacting other opposition parties in an effort to formulate a joint strategy. Sources said the PML-N parliamentary party is also divided on how to protest during the session. One group, led by Khawaja Saad Rafique, suggests that the party should not disturb the proceedings, while another group, which is considered to be close to Chaudhry Nisar, says that the party should continue sloganeering and desk-thumping throughout the president�s speech. Chaudhry Nisar has yet not decided which group he should throw his weight behind. However, sources said that senior PML-N leaders have decided in principle to not allow smooth sailing for Zardari. The Maulana Fazlur Rehman-led Jamiat Ulema-eIslam has decided to follow the main opposition party on the matter. On the other hand, PML-Q, which had decided on Sunday to boycott the session, has softened its stance following a meeting with a government team on Monday. Federal Ministers Syed Naveed Qamar and Khurshid Shah met the PML-Q leadership and requested them to attend the session. Though the PML-Q leadership has publicly refused to commit anything, sources said that the party seems to have softened its stance. The PML-Q is the third largest party in the National Assembly and the second largest in the Senate. If it joins hands with the PML-N to launch a protest, they can give a tough time to the government. Speaker National Assembly Dr Fehmida Mirza directed the authorities to make sure that former religious affairs minister Hamid Saeed Kazmi attends the joint sitting of parliament. Officials in the interior ministry confirmed to have received a production order from Mirza�s office and said that Kazmi, who is currently in the FIA custody for his alleged involvement in the Hajj corruption case, would be taken to parliament to attend the session. With additional reporting by Irfan Ghauri in Islamabad and Abdul Manan in Lahore
By: The Express Tribune