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ISLAMABAD: In a rare development, the military authorities on Sunday announced that a meeting of the National Security Committee (NSC), the country’s top civil-military body, had been called on Monday (today) to consider the situation arising out of the recent remarks of PML-N supreme leader Nawaz Sharif about the 2008 Mumbai attacks as differences within the ruling party surfaced following the issuance of contradictory statements by the Sharif brothers on the issue.

The Prime Minister Office, however, opted to stay silent as there was no announcement from the government side regarding the convening of the NSC meeting.

“(The) NSC meeting suggested to (the) prime minister to discuss recent misleading media statement regarding Bombay (Mumbai) incident. Being held tomorrow (Monday) morning,” tweeted Director General of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor through his official account on Twitter.

Political analysts believe that these latest developments indicate further aggravation in the already tense civil-military relationship at a time when elections are just a couple of months away. They believe that the announcement by the ISPR chief through social media indicates that the military authorities have decided to seriously take up the issue and that they want Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s stance over the matter.

Differences appear within PML-N as Nawaz sticks to his statement, but Shahbaz says it doesn’t reflect party’s policy

In an exclusive interview to Dawn published on Saturday, Mr Nawaz while speaking on matters related to the country’s foreign policy had stated: “Militant organisations are active. Call them non-state actors, should we allow them to cross the border and kill 150 people in Mumbai? Explain it to me. Why can’t we complete the trial?” He was referring to the Mumbai attacks-related trial proceedings which have stalled in the Rawalpindi anti-terrorism court.

“It’s absolutely unacceptable. This is exactly what we are struggling for. President Putin has said it. President Xi has said it,” Mr Nawaz had said.

Soon after the publication of Mr Nawaz’s interview, the Indian media blew up his remarks, terming it an admission on part of the former prime minister that non-state actors from Pakistan were involved in the Mumbai attacks in which terrorists had killed more than 150 people and injured over 300 others in about a dozen shooting and bombing attacks in different localities.

Meanwhile, an unidentified spokesman for the PML-N in a statement, which he said was being issued to “set the record straight on the interview of PML-N Quaid”, claimed that the Indian media had “grossly misinterpreted” Mr Nawaz’s remarks.

“At the outset, the statement of the Quaid has been grossly misinterpreted by the Indian media. Unfortunately, a section of Pakistani electronic and social media has intentionally or unintentionally not only validated but has lent credence to the malicious propaganda of Indian media without going through the full facts of the statement,” he said.

“The PML-N as the country’s premier popular national political party and its Quaid need no certificate from anybody on their commitment and capacity to preserve, protect and promote Pakistan’s national security,” the spokesman said in apparent reference to the ongoing criticism of the PML-N and Mr Nawaz for his remarks from political and security quarters, terming it “anti-state” and equating it with committing a treason.

“After all, it was (the then) Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who, resisting all pressures, took the most important and most difficult decision on national security in Pakistan’s history by making the country a nuclear power in May 1998,” the spokesman said while referring to the nuclear tests conducted by Pakistan in a tit-for-tat move against India 20 years ago.

The spokesman also clarified that comments of Nawaz Sharif about PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif’s role in the party’s election campaign were also being misinterpreted.

“Mian Shahbaz Sharif is the elected president of the PML-N, and, in this capacity, he is already in the forefront of the election campaign, taking the PML-N message to every nook and corner of the country. There is, therefore, no ambiguity regarding his role and future responsibilities,” the spokesman concluded.

Shahbaz’s reaction

When Nawaz Sharif did not at all contradict his remarks, his younger brother and PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif, who is also the chief minister of Punjab, issued a statement, saying that the news report had “incorrectly attributed certain remarks to PML-N Quaid Nawaz Sharif, which do not represent PML-N’s party policy.”

In the statement, which Mr Shahbaz issued as the party president but through the Punjab government’s Directorate General Public Relations, he said the PML-N “rejects all assertions, direct or implied, made in the news report of Dawn.”

The younger Sharif said “the state of Pakistan and all its institutions stand together in the global fight against terrorism.”

“We strongly believe that the interests of Pakistan are supreme to all personal and political interests,” the PML-N president said, adding that “there could and shall never be any compromise on any national interest.”

Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2018