LAHORE / ISLAMABAD: A meeting of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) bigwigs was held on Sunday, ostensibly to chart out a course of action following the military’s reaction to the PM’s directives, issued in the light of the report of an inquiry into a story published in Dawn last year.
Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan specially flew in to Lahore to attend the consultative meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at his Jati Umra residence in Raiwind.
The meeting, which lasted more than two hours, was also attended by Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, his son Hamza Shahbaz and Principal Secretary to PM Fawad Hasan Fawad.
There was no official word on what was discussed, nor did any of the participants speak to the journalists anxiously awaiting comment outside the PM’s sprawling residence after the meeting.
But sources and media reports suggested the meeting discussed the situation created in the aftermath of the ISPR tweet on the issue.
A day earlier, the head of the military’s media wing had tweeted the military’s disapproval of the PM’s directives, prompting Chaudhry Nisar to observe at a press conference that “institutions don’t talk to each other [over Twitter]”.
Sources said the prime minister tasked Mr Dar and Chaudhry Nisar to engage the army and allay its reservations regarding actions taken so far in the light of the recommendations of the inquiry committee, while Shahbaz Sharif has been asked to assist the duo.
No one ‘tasked’ with anything, Maryam tweets; PPP seeks debate on news report row
A meeting between the military and civilian leaderships is expected within the next 24 hours, sources say.
Chaudhry Nisar and the Punjab chief minister are said to enjoy a good rapport among army circles and have met the then army chief Gen Raheel Sharif on a number of occasions to resolve differences between the two sides over certain issues.
But in a message from her Twitter account, the prime minister’s daughter Maryam Nawaz denied that any such task was assigned to anyone.
“All statements being attributed to PM on media after the consultative meeting are incorrect. No one has been assigned any task by the PM,” her tweet read.
Sources say that some participants of the meeting had agreed to issue a new notification on Tuesday, encompassing “some of the reservations”.
A number of TV channels reported that the meeting also discussed various aspects of the proposed legal action against Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chairman Imran Khan, who had recently accused the prime minister of offering him a Rs10 billion bribe in exchange for backing off from the Panama Papers case.
The prime minister was quoted as saying that he had and would always avoid confrontational politics, adding that his government had always prioritised the national interest and democracy above anything else.
Immediately after the meeting, National Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq also called on the prime minister to discuss the role of parliament with reference to the ongoing political crises.
A senior party leader, who requested not to be named, admitted that the government would have to formulate a concrete stance on the matter of the inquiry into the Dawn story if it wanted to settle the issue, once and for all.
However, he said, the upcoming general elections were the focus of the discussion in the PML-N circles, not this issue. Another official said that the party was monitoring reaction from civil society to the ISPR tweet to gauge how the public was reacting.
PPP seeks debate
Meanwhile, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has urged the government to make public the inquiry committee’s report, calling for parliamentary debate on the matter to allay “doubts and misgivings”.
In a carefully-worded statement released on Sunday, PPP spokesperson Senator Farhatullah Babar said the “unceremonious sacking” of Special Assistant on Foreign Affairs Tariq Fatemi and Principal Information Officer Rao Tehseen Ali, as well as the “unprecedented advice” to the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) to proceed against the editor and reporter concerned had made it “absolutely necessary” that the report should immediately be made public.
Moreover, Mr Babar said, the “highly unprecedented public rejection” by the ISPR, which dubbed the PM’s actions “incomplete and not in line with the recommendations” of the inquiry committee had further compounded the problem.
“The statement of Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan that his ministry had not yet issued any notification, just when the PM Office had indeed issued orders [has] given rise to several questions that need answer[ing],” he said.
“The botching up of the incident is a measure of the incompetence of the government and [insisting on keeping] the inquiry report under wraps will only complicate matters further,” he said, recalling an earlier statement by the interior minister, claiming the report would be made public.
Moreover, he said, asking the APNS to take action against an editor and reporter for allegedly breaching national security took the issue of stifling freedom of expression in the name of national security to new heights.
“These are some of the issues that call for making public the inquiry report and a thorough debate in the parliament for devising appropriate guidelines,” he said.
The PPP’s official statement seemed contradictory to the initial response given by Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khurshid Shah, who had openly supported the army’s response and said he rejected the inquiry report.
Sources in the party told Dawn that the party leadership had conveyed to Mr Shah that he should be cautious while commenting on issues related to civil-military relations.
Besides, the interior ministry issued a hard-hitting rebuttal to Mr Shah, who had lashed out at the interior minister on Saturday.
Mr Shah had called for Chaudhry Nisar’s resignation, saying that the minister was unaware of the notifications issued by respective ministries and divisions in line with the prime minister’s directives when he said that the final notifications would be issued by his ministry.
Responding to Mr Shah’s remarks, the interior ministry’s statement made some personal attacks on Mr Shah and termed his remarks “nonsense and illogical”.
“Some people rise above their past. It seems that Khurshid Shah, morally and mentally, is still at the same level as when he started his career at the Karachi Electric Supply Corporation back in the 1970s,” the statement said.
“The interior minister has no time for such nonsensical and illogical statements, nor does he consider it appropriate to respond to such baseless utterances,” the spokesperson said.
Published in Dawn, May 1st, 2017