KARACHI: Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Wednesday warned against making national security issues controversial.

Speaking at a press conference at Bilawal House, he said the much-talked about national security meeting of the PPP and other parliamentary parties with the army leadership was held on the issue of Gilgit-Baltistan and it was in-camera and off the record.

Flanked by Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah and other PPP leaders, Mr Bhutto-Zardari disclosed that the PPP and other parties had been approached on Sept 18 or 19 for a national security briefing on GB. He emphasised that whenever there was a national security issue pertaining to India, Azad Kashmir, Fata, extremism or terrorism, “we are united”. He said he believed that such meetings were always held in-camera and were neither debated nor disclosed in the media.

The PPP chairman said he was compelled to talk about this issue because “some irresponsible person(s)”, who had nothing to do with national security, GB, AJK, foreign policy and “who did not utter a single word in that meeting”, had started talking on every TV channel.

He warned that such talk might make national security or foreign policy issues controversial and demanded that this person (later named as federal Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid) should be given a “shut-up call” and prevented from making such an irresponsible statement.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari wondered why Prime Minister Imran Khan was not present in such an important national security meeting. He regretted that it was not the first time that the premier was not present; he continuously failed to engage with the opposition on national security issues, India or major incidents like the Pulwama attack.

Regrets PM’s absence from security meeting; says opposition alliance formed against govt, its facilitators; seeks agriculture emergency to compensate flood-hit farmers

Since the premier did not engage with the opposition, the national security meeting was held without him, which should not happen, the PPP chairman said, suggesting that if a briefing on national security was needed, the prime minister should be present there.

He said it was a failure on the part of the present government which needed to be rectified. “It was PM’s responsibility to engage with the opposition as they [opposition parties] are also patriotic. Irrespective of differences, we always cooperate.”

He lamented that the present set-up had created an atmosphere where they did not feel that national security issues should be kept confidential.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari was of the opinion that the prime minister should take responsibility vis-à-vis national security issues or tender resignation so that another competent person could lead the country, take such responsibility seriously and didn’t give consideration to partisan politics.

He said the PPP’s position in the national security meeting was that the GB people should take decisions about their future, but regretted that no representative from the region was present in that meeting. He said such meetings should never let irresponsible persons to be present there, particularly those who had no stake in Kashmir or Gilgit-Baltistan.

The meeting convened on the issue of national security and foreign affairs had been discussed “irresponsibly” in public, he regretted.

The PPP chairman said he would speak less on the meeting where the army chief had not talked about any amendment. “It would have been better had the prime minister presided over that meeting. This is also our position that the PM should take the whole nation along on these issues, but sadly his role is missing and stands utterly failed,” he added.

He said the meeting on national security was neither the first nor the last as discussions on sensitive issues of national security would continue to be held in the coming days, but it would not be possible if someone came out and made such sensitive issues a joke for the media.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari said: “Sheikh Rashid cannot be allowed to make the national security meeting controversial. This is irresponsible and we condemn it.”

He warned that “if the issues of national security are made disputed, neither I nor my party will attend any such meeting in future”.

He clarified that there was no discussion on the issue of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), but fair and transparent elections did come under discussion.

In reply to a question, the PPP chairman said: “We have been saying ‘Go Imran, go’ from day one. How can a person who cannot take the opposition into confidence on the Kashmir issue lead the country?”

He said the PPP had not changed its stance and the interests of the country would never be compromised. He said the opposition had been ready to cooperate on national security, but the prime minister seriously lacked political sanity and maturity.

Multiparty conference

The PPP chairman termed the opposition’s multiparty conference (MPC) a historic event as it was the first time that former premier Nawaz Sharif and former president Asif Ali Zardari jointly addressed it. He said it was perhaps the first time that Mr Sharif delivered a detailed and long speech and ‘gave direction’ on the basis of which an alliance of opposition parties had been formed with the name Pakistan Democratic Movement against the PTI-led government and its ‘facilitators’.

At the MPC, he said, “we had chalked out an action plan against this government with firm resolve to see that action plan implemented in letter and spirit”.

“There should be an equal law for all in the country. We want democracy for all. There should be a level playing field for all, be it elections, parliament, courts, Election Commission of Pakistan.”

He said they were also against media censorship.

Flood devastation

Talking about the devastation caused by torrential rains and heavy floods in Sindh and other parts of the country, he said there was devastation everywhere due to these catastrophic rains and ensuing floods in Sindh, including its capital Karachi, where monsoon rains wreaked havoc.

“There are serious problems in Sindh, Swat, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan as there are countless flood victims who are in dire need of relief,” he said, adding that rains and floods had destroyed crops across the country. He added that the Covid-19 pandemic had already inflicted havoc, while another locust attack made matters worse as ready crops were badly affected.

“Crops of chillies, cotton and tomato vanished under the locust attack in Sindh and thus the farmers suffered immensely. It is the obligation of the federal government to come to the aid of the affected farmers and the rain- and flood-hit masses in Sindh and all over the country,” he said.

Recalling that the PPP-led government had given Pakistan/Watan cards to the victims of 2011 floods, Mr Bhutto-Zardari said the federal government should now issue the same cards. He urged the federal government to declare ‘agriculture emergency’ to compensate the farmers as agriculture was the backbone of the country’s economy.

Published in Dawn, September 24th, 2020