POST-MPC hysteria in Islamabad has unleashed a storm of leaks and clarifications, igniting a rare public debate about the propriety of meetings between opposition and military leaders. Two developments have come to light since last Sunday. The first is that, just ahead of the MPC, opposition leaders met the army and ISI chiefs to discuss the Gilgit-Baltistan elections. Second, some weeks earlier, the PML-N’s Mohammad Zubair privately met the army and ISI chiefs for what he claimed were ‘general discussions’. While the former Sindh governor stated that no relief was sought for Maryam and Nawaz Sharif, the DG ISPR said that both meetings featured discussions on PML-N’s embattled leadership. That Mr Zubair met the army chief twice in the span of two weeks — in the presence of the ISI chief — is quite revealing, and belies his implication that the visits constituted little more than informal chitchats. What is significant here is that, despite the opposition members’ meetings, Mr Sharif launched a blistering attack on the establishment’s alleged role in politics and that the MPC reinforced his position by adopting a tough resolution.

Meetings between opposition and military leaders, on the request of either side, have been a regular feature of our political history. Where issues of national security are concerned, the details are usually not revealed by participants. But the series of leaks and political statements of late about such engagements are a strong indicator of the thorny political games and unscrupulous backdoor schemes in progress. The developments raise several questions. Why were the ‘disclosures’ made after the MPC? Do they indicate panic? Or are politicians like Sheikh Rashid out to malign the opposition? Ironically, in his feverish revelations about opposition members’ meetings with the army leadership, Mr Rashid also gave the impression that the establishment takes a deep interest in political affairs — something that could tarnish the image of the security apparatus. The weeks ahead will show whether or not the formal opposition alliance remains a united front or splits up on account of these revelations. Clarity from all quarters is needed. Perhaps more immediately, the opposition should explain its position on contacting and meeting the top ranks of the security establishment, especially in view of the MPC. Whatever the motive behind these leaks, they have been a source of embarrassment for the opposition politicians. Meanwhile, where the military leadership is concerned, the public discourse around such questionable, unofficial meetings with politicians begs introspection.

Published in Dawn, September 25th, 2020

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