ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: In what appears to be a damage control move amid criticism of his party for maintaining secret contacts with the army, PML-N supreme leader Nawaz Sharif on Thursday barred his party members from meeting military or agencies people in future without prior permission of the party leadership.
“Recent events have once again proved that how some meetings remain hidden behind seven veils and how some others are publicised giving them a particular colour. This game should come to an end now,” the former prime minister said in his personal social media account on Twitter, which was created a day before the opposition’s multiparty conference (MPC) in Islamabad on Sept 20.
“Today I am issuing directives to my party that in future, no party member will hold meeting with any representative of the military and its related agencies individually, personally or at party level,” Mr Sharif said, adding that he had issued the directives in line with the constitutional requirements and “to remind the armed forces of Pakistan about their oath to obey the Constitution”.
He said that “if any such meeting was found to be necessary to meet the constitutional requirements or for national defence (purpose), then it will take place only after the party leadership’s approval”. He also said that no such meeting would be kept secret and it would always be made public.
The directives were issued by the deposed prime minister a day after an army spokesman disclosed that former Sindh governor Mohammad Zubair had twice reached out to Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and discussed political and legal woes of Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz in the past few weeks.
Earlier, on Sept 21, a day after the opposition’s MPC, Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed revealed that major opposition figures, including PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif, its parliamentary leader in the National Assembly Khawaja Asif and secretary general Ahsan Iqbal, had met the army chief and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Director General Lt Gen Faiz Hameed in recent days.
These disclosures were made by the minister and Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar following Nawaz Sharif’s hard-hitting speech at the MPC via a video link from London, where he has been living since November last year in connection with his medical treatment. In his speech, the PML-N supremo directly held the military establishment responsible for the woes of the country, alleging that there was “a state above the state in the country”.
On Wednesday, the ISPR director general disclosed that Muhammad Zubair had met the army chief twice — once in the last week of August and then on Sept 7 in the presence of the ISI chief. According to Gen Iftikhar, both the meetings were held on Mr Zubair’s request and in those meetings the senior PML-N leader had talked about Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz.
The military spokesman said the army chief had during his two meetings with Mr Zubair “made it clear to him that their [Sharifs] legal issues would be addressed in court, while political matters were to be dealt with [by] the parliament”. He added that Mr Zubair was categorically conveyed that the military should be kept out of political matters.
Later, appearing on television channels and through his official social media account on Twitter, Mr Zubair did confirm his contacts with the military leadership, but claimed that he had gone to discuss economic issues. However, he admitted that issues relating to Mr Sharif and his daughter Maryam did come up for discussion.
“Gen Qamar Bajwa is an old friend and not only that I have met him many times as a friend but our families have also been meeting cordially over dinners etc. In my most recent meeting with him economy, politics and, of course, Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz, all came under discussion. No relief was ever requested,” Mr Zubair tweeted.
Talking to one of the TV channels, Mr Zubair expressed his surprise over the ISPR chief’s statement. “Such meetings are secret. I don’t understand as to why the army spokesperson needs to talk on [my meeting with the army chief] it,” he said.
When contacted, PML-N information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb said the party leadership was satisfied with Mr Zubair’s explanation and it had no plan to take any action against him.
Also on Wednesday, PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz, during a brief chat with reporters, said that political decisions should have been made in parliament, and not in the General Headquarters (GHQ).
In response to a question about the recent meeting of the PML-N leaders with the army chief, she said as per her knowledge, the party leaders had met the army chief to discuss the issue related to Gilgit-Baltistan. She then quickly added: “I believe the issue of Gilgit-Baltistan is a political matter and political decisions should have been taken within parliament, not in the GHQ.”
In response to another question whether the PML-N supreme leader was aware of that meeting, she had replied: “I don’t know [if] he was aware of it or he learnt it [after the meeting took place]. However, it is my persistent view that political leadership should never be invited or go to discuss these issues.”
Tension with establishment
Talking to reporters in Lahore, senior PML-N leader Khawaja Saad Rafique admitted that the party had been trying to reduce tension with the establishment for the last two years.
“We had tried our best to reduce tension [with the establishment] during the last two years. Whatever injustice had been done to us [PML-N] we showed restraint. And still we are trying that the opposing viewpoint should be presented without creating any bitterness [with the powers that be],” he said.
Mr Rafique said that if someone wanted to resolve the matters it did not mean he was seeking any relief or deal. “It is the duty of the government to reduce political temperatures but this is being done by the opposition,” he said.
PML-N’s Punjab president Rana Sanaullah termed Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid a security risk for the country, saying the latter had “embarrassed” many by divulging the details of an in-camera meeting between the army chief and the parliamentary leaders. He demanded registration of an FIR against the minister for disclosing the contents of the “off-the-record” meeting.
Published in Dawn, September 25th, 2020