KARACHI, May 5: In remarks likely to raise eyebrows in the establishment, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif expressed his intention on Sunday to change the current nature of relations between the civilian government and the army leadership if he became prime minister for a third time as a result of general elections to be held later this week.
In back-to-back interviews to CNN-IBN and Reuters, Mr Sharif touched several key issues, notably the war against terrorism, possibility of negotiations with the Pakistani Taliban, civilian supremacy over the army and economy.
When asked by CNN-IBN’s Karan Thapar in the Devil’s Advocate special programme from Lahore whether Nawaz Sharif as the prime minister would like the army to continue to exercise its role in controlling relations with the US and India and the security policy as happened under the PPP-led government, the PML-N leader said: “I don’t know whether that’s happening…in Islamabad, all I know is when I was the prime minister the policy was being formulated by the federal government, by the civilian head of state and then of course executed by the institutions...”
Thapar interrupted: “And you want that to continue?”
Sharif: “I want that to continue and I’m very clear on that and that everybody must remain in their respective domains and go by the…”
Thapar: “Which means the prime minister will be the army chief’s boss?”
Sharif: “He is. He is…the army is an attached department of the federal government and of course the chief of army staff works under the federal government and implements the policies of the federal government. So I think, as I just mentioned, I don’t know if that’s happening in Islamabad but I believe it’s not happening like that but if…”
Thapar: “But you will enforce it when you come to power.”
Sharif: “That’s what the constitution says, that’s what our law says and that’s what the mandate is of the federal government.”
Thapar: “Imran Khan keeps saying he will quit the American war on terror.”
Sharif: “He is jumping the gun.”
Talking to Reuters, Mr Sharif said the country should reconsider its support for the US war on militancy and suggested that he was in favour of negotiations with the Taliban.
He said the military’s US-backed campaign against the Taliban was not the best way to defeat the insurgency.
“I think guns and bullets are always not the answer to such problems,” he said.
“I think other options need to be explored at the same time and see what is workable. And I think we’re going to pursue all these other options.”
The PML-N leader wants a review of the backing provided for the US war on militancy under the previous government’s approach.
“Someone will have to take this problem seriously,” said Mr Sharif. “All stakeholders will have to sit down together and understand the concerns of all parties and then take a decision, which is in the best interest of Pakistan and the international community.”
Born into a family of wealthy industrialists, Mr Sharif reflected on Pakistan’s turbulent history, especially the army’s habit of mounting coups and meddling in politics.
He became sombre as he recalled how a former army chief and later president, Pervez Musharraf, toppled his government. “It was a very bad day for Pakistan,” said Mr Sharif.
He said Gen Musharraf’s plight should serve as an example to other top brass who may be planning a takeover.
Pakistan is undergoing a transition, said Mr Sharif, who was groomed by a military dictator in the 1980s but has since become a harsh critic of military intervention in politics.
“This accountability which is now taking place is itself a lesson to all those who have any such designs in the future,” he said. “Now Musharraf has come back and look at what he’s going through. Everybody is seeing it on TV and reading it in the newspapers and this itself is a lesson to everybody.”
Mr Sharif believes his team is up to the challenge of reviving the country’s near-failed economy. He said he would promote a free-market, as he did during two stints as prime minister in the 1990s. “We are going to pick up the threads from where we left off in 1999.”
A major challenge for the next government, analysts say, will be implementing politically difficult economic reforms to secure another bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and avert a balance of payments crisis.
“I’m not someone who is against the IMF. But I am a man who believes that we need to stand on our own feet, that should be our priority,” said Mr Sharif. “But to work with the IMF until such time, I don’t see any harm in that.”