ISLAMABAD: In what appeared to be a response to Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s Wednesday statement, PML-N chief Mian Nawaz Sharif qualified his earlier comments on Siachen.
Mr Sharif announced that he had not called for a unilateral withdrawal of Pakistani troops from Siachen, but called for a resumption of a peace dialogue between Pakistan and India. The hope is that such dialogues may result in both countries pulling out their troops from the conflict zone.
He was speaking at a press conference at the Punjab House. Mr Sharif made his original statement during a visit to Siachen on Tuesday. A day later, Gen Kayani during his visit to the area said that a unilateral withdrawal would not be possible, which was seen as an implied criticism of Mr Sharif’s statement.
Others too joined the chorus including the ruling party leadership. At a public meeting in Okara on Friday, President Asif Ali Zardari also said that Pakistan would not withdraw troops from Siachen unilaterally.
The Siachen issue dominated the press conference and other PML-N leaders also jumped in to clear the confusion.
“Some sections of the media have misinterpreted Nawaz Sharif’s statement.
He had said that Pakistan should initiate Pak-India peaceful dialogue but not that it should unilaterally withdraw Pakistani troops from Siachen and other bordering areas,” said PML-N’s Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan at the press conference.
“We should take a step forward to take an initiative for meaningful dialogue, for reducing tensions, and for cutting defence expenditures by the two sides so that the countries could spend more and more on the welfare of their people,” said Mr Sharif.
The PML-N leader, during whose tenure the 1999 Kargil conflict had taken place, agreed that Pakistan and India had committed ‘mistakes’ in the past.
“Both sides should not repeat mistakes,” he said.
When asked why he had not taken such initiatives, which he and Chaudhry Nisar were now suggesting, during his tenure, Mr Sharif argued that both of his tenures were too short for significant progress.
Sharif and the military
Aside from the Siachen issue, the press conference was used to announce that retired general and former military secretary for Benazir Bhutto, Abdul Qayyum, had joined the PML-N.
When asked why his criticism of military generals did not translate into his party’s policy on new inductions, Sharif explained his decision and said: “All generals are not Pervez Musharraf. Many of them are patriotic Pakistanis.”
Talking about the country’s defence budget, he agreed that it should be discussed and approved in the parliament. “It had already been decided in the Charter of Democracy signed by me and Benazir Bhutto that the defence budget of the country should be decided in the parliament,” he said.
Gen (retd) Abdul Qayyum said he joined Mr Sharif’s party because the country’s biggest challenge was poverty.
“The PML-N has a team of economists that can help overcome poverty under the guidance of Nawaz Sharif,” he said.
Mr Sharif denied that his party was behaving as a friendly opposition. “The language which President Zardari has used about us recently does not reflect that we are friendly,” he said.
When asked whether the PML-N would go for another long march to oust the PPP-led government, he said there was no such plan on the cards, but added that opposition’s effective role had restrained the ruling elite from committing wrongdoings.
Chaudhry Nisar criticised Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf chairman Imran Khan for not visiting Siachen where 138 soldiers and civilians were buried after an avalanche on April 7, and where the rescue operation was still under way. “Imran has no money to visit Siachen, but he has resources to spend millions of rupees on his public meetings and foreign tours,” he said.
He added that the PTI chief always raised his voice for missing persons, but seemed to have no time to visit the missing persons’ camp established in Islamabad by their relatives.