With Washington and Islamabad engaged in a worsening war of words over United States (US) President Donald Trump's recent tweets in the backdrop, Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday took the opportunity to claim that a civilian government would never have "sold itself" to the US in the post-9/11 scenario.
The former premier also threatened to lift the curtain on "what has been happening in Islamabad for the past four years" if "they" do not stop their "propaganda".
Addressing a press conference in Islamabad upon his return from a much-speculated visit to Saudi Arabia — during which he met top officials, including powerful crown prince Muhammad bin Salman — Nawaz claimed that: "If in 2001 a democratic government had been in place in Pakistan instead of a dictatorship, it [the state] would never have sold its expertise to the US. It would neither have sold our expertise, nor our self-respect."
The remarks were taken by at least one opposition politician, the PPP's Qamar Zaman Kaira, as criticism of the country's powerful 'establishment'. Kaira, while speaking on DawnNews also asked if Nawaz's trip to the Kingdom had emboldened him to make such outspoken claims.
The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf's Naeemul Haque, on the other hand, wondered where the ousted prime minister's loyalties lay while accusing him of adopting the "same perspective" as Trump and India's Narendra Modi.
Shoring up support
The ex-PM, whose party is attempting to shore up support in the lead-up to the general election this year, began his press conference by asserting that his government does not care for US threats to cut funding to Islamabad.
The remark referenced Islamabad and Washington trading barbs after Trump lashed out at Pakistan on the first day of 2018, and the US suspension of $255 million in military aid to Pakistan. The US president's tweets are a matter of concern for Pakistanis, who view his words as offensive and disrespectful.
Describing Trump's tweet as "non-serious" and "sad", Sharif said: "A head of state should remember the rules of engagement while addressing a fellow state."
"We should not be taunted [about US aid]," he said, adding that he would "advise Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to formulate a plan that ensures we don't need any US aid so that such attacks are not made on our self respect."
"A coalition fund should not be called 'aid'. We do not even need such a fund and our support should not be demanded in return," he said.
"The US president should know that as soon as we, the PML-N, came into power in 2013, we took effective steps to end terrorism in Pakistan," he said, adding that Operation Zarb-i-Azb had "broken the backs of terrorists".
"This is not 2001. A dictator is not ruling the country, and one telephone call will not scare us," he stressed.
However, he then changed tack.
"I have been the prime minister of this country thrice. A lot of facts are in front of me. As a respectable citizen of Pakistan, I would like for us, as a nation, to assess our own situation," he urged.
"I have always said that we should look at ourselves often and ask ourselves why the world does not take us seriously. But every time I have said this, the comment has not been taken seriously. Sometimes it has been termed as 'Dawn leaks' and at other times as conspiracy theories."
"We should ask ourselves why the world never listens to us in spite of the countless sacrifices that our police, security forces, civilians and even children have given over the past 17 years. Why is our narrative not being accepted?" he questioned.
"We need to search for the answers to these questions."
"If these questions are sidelined and the answers for them are not sought, then it would count as self-deception. It is because of these self deceptions that Pakistan has been polarised in the first place."
"We should step away from this self deception now, and the country's leadership ─ all its institutions ─ should join hands to find the answers to these questions and provide solutions to them."
He did not address one of the opposition parties' most frequent criticisms of his own foreign policy while in power: his deliberate decision to not appoint a foreign minister. That decision — according to former US ambassador Sherry Rehman and others — prevented Pakistan's diplomatic corps from thwarting the current deterioration in the two countries' ties.
Sharif also described how elections in Pakistan have historically not been taken seriously, preventing successive prime ministers from completing their term.
"The Quaid said that the nation's decision is never wrong, but here, over the past 70 years, either the public's decision is twisted or their choice of leader is turned into a mockery for all to see."
"Because 2018 is a year for elections," he said, "this worn-out rule of the past is being applied again today."
Sharif, without specifying who 'they' are, said: "They are trying to shift the public's views... Block the way for a certain political party, and pave the way for their 'darling'." 'Darling' seems to have been an oblique reference to PTI chief Imran Khan, who has been referred to with that term by other PML-N leaders before.
"The most recent assessment of the numbers says that the PML-N is still ahead of any other political party and its vote bank is still larger than the vote bank of all other political parties combined. The ones afraid of this truth are trying hard to change the reality and turn it into something else," Sharif continued.
"I want to say in crystal clear words today that this country's fate is linked to free and fair elections. Every political party should have equal opportunity to take part in these elections."
"Secret telephone calls and deals should not be used to tie our hands, and to give the darling a new deal and new dheel (freedom)."
"Democracy should be given a chance to grow in the country," he added.
"Those people who have done nothing for the nation's development, and whom the country has rejected repeatedly, should not be patted on the back and imposed on the people. Pakistan's people are aware and capable of making their own decisions, and their opinions and the sanctity of their vote should not be destroyed."
"I would also like to say that if this propaganda does not stop, I will spill the beans on them, right here in Islamabad, with all the evidence. I will tell the tale of the past four years and tell the nation what has been going on here in all that time," he threatened.
"I will tell the nation what is happening now, and how the electoral process is being sidelined by imposition of personal opinions," he warned.
Sharif had been disqualified from holding the prime minister's job last year in July by the Supreme Court, which had found that he had not disclosed a salary accruing to him in an asset declaration Nawaz was required to submit for election to the National Assembly.
Following the ruling, the PML-N head, his family members and party members, have, on multiple occasions, hinted at 'conspiracies' being hatched against Sharif and the party.
No alleged conspirator, however, has been named as yet.