Person revealing details from national security meeting needs to 'shut up', says Bilawal

Published September 23, 2020
PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari addresses a press conference in Karachi on Wednesday. — DawnNewsTV
PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari addresses a press conference in Karachi on Wednesday. — DawnNewsTV

Referring to Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Wednesday said those revealing details from a recent meeting of key opposition figures with the military leadership need to be stopped because such conversations are meant to be confidential.

He made the demand at a press conference in Karachi, a week after 15 prominent opposition members, including himself, met Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa and head of the Inter-Services Intelligence Lt Gen Faiz Hameed.

In the meeting, which had come days before opposition parties at a conference announced a wide-ranging anti-government movement and criticised the military's interference in politics, the army and intelligence chiefs had cou­n­selled the opposition to refrain from dragging the military into political issues, it had emerged on Monday.

Sharing how the meeting transpired, Bilawal said PPP and other political parties were approached on September 18 or 19 and invited to a national security briefing on Gilgit-Baltistan.

"Whenever there's a national security issue, whether it concerns India, AJK and GB, FATA, extremism and terrorism, we were, are today and will be together on these in the future," he said.

He said his party had never commented on national security meetings, which are "in-camera, off the record", and journalists too understand not to share publicly anything said off the record.

But Bilawal said he had to talk about the meeting with the military leadership to the extent of the disclosures made about it, "out of helplessness".

"Some irresponsible persons who have nothing to do with national security, GB, AJK or foreign policy, and who didn't say a word in this meeting, are giving statements on every TV channel these days," he said.

"I think such actions make national security and foreign policy issues controversial. And whoever's spokesperson this [person] is, they should immediately ask them to shut up and not say anything irresponsible," Bilawal added.

He later named this person as Railways Minister Rashid, who has in recent days appeared on various prime time talk shows to confirm details of the meeting. Bilawal said the narrative Rashid is spreading "is not setting a good precedent".

"You can never be able to create consensus on any issue if such things happen," he added, saying his party in the future will not attend any meeting in which Rashid is also present.

Noting that political parties will have to sit together on national security issues in the future as well, Bilawal accused Prime Minister Imran Khan of having failed to "engage with the opposition" on national security issues that have arisen during his tenure, such as worsening of relations with India following the Pulwama attack.

He said national security briefings should not take place without the prime minister.

"The opposition as well as the government, despite our differences, are well-wishers of the country, Bilawal said. "When it comes to national security issues, we have always wanted to cooperate."

But "this current set-up has created an atmosphere where we don't feel secure that our national security conversations and briefings will remain confidential."

'Free and fair polls'

Bilawal said his party's stance during the meeting was that the people of GB should take the decisions concerning their future themselves because it was their right.

He said the PPP had pointed out that nobody was representing GB at the meeting. "We demand free and fair elections in GB. If they don't take place, then we don't have a bigger national security threat," he added.

Bilawal said a "welcome" element of the meeting was that Army Chief Gen Bajwa too agreed that free and fair polls should be held in GB.

"I got the impression that the army chief did not want elections to be controversial in the future and desired that we carry out election reforms that result in free and fair elections. The biggest test case for this will be the upcoming GB polls," he stressed.

Announcing that he will personally lead the PPP's campaign for the GB polls, Bilawal said the GB elections will mark the point "from where we will move towards non-controversial elections". He also revealed the names of PPP's candidates for the GB polls.

During the news conference, the PPP chairperson also demanded of the federal government to provide compensation to small farmers who have suffered heavy losses due to floods caused by torrential rains, and declare an agriculture emergency.

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