ISLAMABAD: Army chief Gen Raheel Sharif on Tuesday weighed in on the government-opposition row over the Panama Papers probe by asking Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to resolve the issue at the earliest.

Gen Sharif, according to a well-placed government source, conveyed the pointed message to the prime minister in a one-on-one meeting before another huddle on national security at PM House.

The army chief’s view was that the protracted controversy over Panama Papers investigation was affecting governance and national security and, therefore, the issue needed to be urgently brought to a close.

“Gen Sharif believes that the issue is causing instability and insecurity,” the source said.

The crisis erupted after Panama Papers leaks revealed offshore financial assets of Nawaz Sharif’s children. Although the leaked documents had disclosed offshore companies of several other leading politicians, the opposition has been demanding that the probe should start with the prime minister’s family.

The government and the opposition have separately proposed their terms of reference for a judicial inquiry. Persisting differences between the two sides over how the probe should proceed is preventing the start of the inquiry.

Coincidentally, the Panama­gate unfolded as Mr Sharif’s government was embroiled in a controversy with the military over the start of counter-terrorism operations in Punjab. The government had initially resisted authorising a military-led operation in the province, which the army unilaterally started after the Easter Day bombing in a Lahore park. Later the army compromised and settled for a coordination mechanism at the level of the provincial government.

The government has been adamant that the prime minister’s family had not done anything wrong by investing in overseas companies, but looks panicky.

Due to frosty civil-military relations, a national security meeting could not take place for an unusually long time. The last civil-military apex committee’s meeting on national security affairs was held on April 4 during which civil-military impasse over the authorisation of military-led counter-terrorism operations in Punjab was discussed.

Tuesday’s national security meeting was presided over by the prime minister and attended by Gen Sharif, Interior Minis-ter Chaudhry Nisar Ali, ISI Director General Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

“Issues pertaining to national and internal security were discussed during the meeting. It reviewed the progress of Operation Zarb-i-Azb and return of internally displaced persons,” a statement issued by the PM Office said.

Without mentioning the news about Gen Sharif calling for resolution of the controversy over Panama Papers probe, it asked the media to “avoid speculation/flashing of news pertaining to unrelated issues and obtained through sources”.

Published in Dawn, May 11th, 2016

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