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PML-N leaders’ row reveals internal split

Updated September 20, 2017
Former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan (L) and Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.— AFP/File
Former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan (L) and Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.— AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The prime minister’s endorsement of Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif’s contention that Pak­istan needs to “put its house in order” has exposed cracks in the ranks of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and provided an opportunity to opposition parties to criticise the government’s foreign and security policies.

In his latest assault on his own party’s government, former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan on Tuesday advised Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi not to embarrass the country at the international level.

On the other hand, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) expressed serious concerns over the statements coming from cabinet members and called for a full-fledged debate in parliament on this “serious national security issue”.

Also read: Interior minister rejects Nisar’s claim about security threat

In a recent TV interview, the foreign minister had stressed the need to “put our own house in order” and keep tabs on banned organisations, such as the Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba, admitting that the groups were operating from within Pakistan.

Nisar continues to contradict PM, ministers’ stance; opposition seeks explanation of foreign minister’s remarks

Even Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal endorsed the foreign minister’s viewpoint, vowing to take strict action against banned outfits that resurfaced under new names.

In a statement issued through his spokesperson, PML-N stalwart and former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar had disputed both ministers’ statements, saying that comments on sensitive and important issues must be based on facts, and not assumptions.

He had earlier said it was strange that at a time when the army chief was asserting that Pakistan had rendered enormous sacrifices that the world must acknowledge, the two ministers were parroting the position that Pakistan should “do more”.

He said that both men had been ministers for the past four years, but had never expressed these views in meetings of the cabinet or the National Security Committee.

Responding to the prime minister’s statement, where he agreed with Khawaja Asif on the need to “clean house”, Chaudhry Nisar told a group of reporters on Tuesday that while it was necessary to put “our house in order”, the prime minister should avoid “embarrassing Pakistan internationally”.

Chaudhry Nisar’s latest comments came a day after the media reported that Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa — during an interaction with parliamentarians — had underscored that putting “our house in order” was a pre-requisite for gaining respect among the comity of nations.

Perhaps in the wake of the army chief’s remarks, the former minister also softened his tone, saying that there was a need to take practical measures instead of making mere claims.

He alleged that such statements from government officials were equivalent to supporting the narrative of the country’s enemies. He was of the view that such remarks could weaken Pakistan’s stance at the international level, adding that despite the presence of foreign troops there, terrorists had established safe havens in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah said that PM Abbasi had, in fact, seconded US President Donald Trump, who had already warned Pakistan over its alleged failure to take action against terrorist groups operating from inside the country.

Talking to reporters at the National Press Club, Mr Shah said that Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Khawaja Asif and Ahsan Iqbal had been the part of the federal cabinet of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif for the last four years, and should also tell the nation who was responsible for the present state of affairs in the country.

Mr Shah argued that while whatever was being said was true, “speaking this truth will damage the country”.

If the government was to be believed, the former interior minister was the one responsible for the present state of affairs, he said, adding that Chaudhry Nisar had denied this allegation.

“This shows the contradictions within the government,” Mr Shah said, terming it a result of the failure of the ruling party’s foreign policy.

Also on Tuesday, the PTI wrote to National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq, asking him to summon the prime minister, the interior and foreign ministers to seek an explanation for their remarks.

The letter, written by PTI MNA Murad Saeed, asks the speaker to call a special session for this purpose.

In his letter, Mr Saeed regretted that while the army chief had asked the world to “do more” in his Defence Day speech, government ministers were putting the same demand to Pakistan. He said that the prime minister should be asked to explain why there was a contradiction in the statements of civil and military leaders.

Published in Dawn, September 20th, 2017