Opposition leaders told not to drag military into politics

Published September 22, 2020
Key opposition figures address a presser after the multiparty conference on Sept 20. — Reuters
Key opposition figures address a presser after the multiparty conference on Sept 20. — Reuters

• COAS, ISI chief in rare meeting with politicians before Sept 20 multiparty conference
• Bajwa cautions participants against creating chaos

ISLAMABAD: Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa and head of the Inter-Services Int­elligence Lt Gen Faiz Hameed had in a meeting with key opposition figures days before their multiparty conference cou­n­selled them to refrain from dragging the military into political issues, government ministers and opposition leaders disclosed on Monday.

The September 16 meeting was attended by about 15 opposition figures including Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shah­baz Sharif, Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bil­a­wal Bhutto-Zardari, Jamaat-i-Islami emir Sirajul Haq, ANP’s Amir Haider Hoti, JUI-F’s Asad Mahmood, PML-N leaders Khawaja Asif and Ahsan Iqbal, PPP’s Senator Sherry Rehman and few government ministers.

According to the ground rules set for the session, the meeting was not to be publicly disclosed, some of the opposition leaders, who attended it, said.

Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid, while confirming the meeting and its participants in a conversation with Dawn, said it was held to discuss the impending changes in the constitutional status of Gilgit-Baltistan. However, the opposition used this opportunity to flag its concerns about other matters, especially the military’s alleged interference in politics and allegations of persecution of its leaders on the pretext of accountability.

Mr Rashid was one of the ministers who attended the meeting.

The timing of the meeting and its disclosure was linked by the onlookers to the opposition’s multiparty conference held here on Sunday in which former prime minister Mian Nawaz Sharif bitterly criticised the army, saying there was “a state above the state in the country”.

Criticism by other opposition leaders was, in comparison to Mr Sharif’s remarks, relatively subtle. A 26-point declaration issued at the end of the meeting, however, contained assertions about ending “establishment’s interference in politics” and “no role of armed forces and intelligence agencies” in future elections.

Mr Rashid said the army chief clearly told the participants of the meeting that the Army was not in any manner linked to the political processes and had no involvement in matters concerning election reforms and accountability.

The army chief, however, said the military only responds to calls for assistance by the elected civilian government and it would continue doing so irrespective of who is in office.

Gen Bajwa reportedly categorically conveyed that no one would be allowed to create chaos in the country.

In remarks addressed to JUI-F chief Fazlur Rehman’s son Asad Mahmood, Gen Bajwa, Mr Rashid said, it’s an irony that the same parliament is kosher for Mr Rehman for contesting presidential elections, but it is otherwise unacceptable to him.

The allegations of a political witch hunt in the name of accountability was raised by PML-N’s Ahsan Iqbal.

Responding to him, the army chief said that NAB chief and election commissioner were picked up by political leaders represented in parliament, therefore they needed to be careful in choosing people for such important positions.

A participant, speaking on condition of anonymity said, NAB’s actions had scared the bureaucracy, which is the reason why officials are not taking crucial decisions. Gen Bajwa too had purportedly pointed out that bureaucracy was not delivering.

PML-N remained mum about the participation of its leaders in the meeting.

PPP said it would issue a formal comment on the meeting on Tuesday through its spokesperson Senator Farhatullah Babar. However, Senator Sherry Rehman, participating in a TV talk show, said her party’s chairman talked about the status of Gilgit-Baltistan and its upcoming elections. She said Mr Bhutto-Zardari stressed on the need for fair and free elections in GB, because of the sensitivities attached to the region.

Senator Rehman denied her party took up its reservations about the accountability process.

On Monday, Gen Bajwa met Prime Minister Imran Khan. However, the Prime Minister Office did not issue any media statement on the meeting.

Published in Dawn, September 22nd, 2020

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