• Imran says he commands authority and military stands by his decisions
• Warns of arrests if opposition breaks law during protest

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan has said that present civil-military relationship is unprecedented but it remained sour when former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was ruling the country because he always wanted “to control the army”.

In an interview with journalist Nadeem Malik at Sam­aa TV on Thursday, the pri­me minister said no Inter-Ser­vices Intelligence (ISI) chief could ask him for his resignation, adding that he would have sacked army chi­ef had the Kargil war with India been started without informing him (PM).

Mr Khan said Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supremo Nawaz Sharif was playing a dangerous game by maligning the Army at the behest of India.

Referring to the claim made by Mr Sharif that ex-ISI chief Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam had called him and asked him to resign, Mr Khan said: “You (Sharif) were prime minister, [how] does he (ISI chief) have the courage to say that to you? If someone tells that to me, I will demand his resignation. I am the democratically elected prime minister; who can dare tell me to step down?”

The prime minister said what counted in a democra­tic system was a person’s moral authority but Mr Sharif lacked it and as a result the army was not with him.

He said Mr Sharif had said that he was on a visit to Sri Lanka when the then army chief Gen Pervez Musharraf had attacked Kargil without informing him. “I would have sacked the army chief if Kargil operation was conducted without informing me.”

The prime minister said he enjoyed complete authority and the Army stood by his decisions and manifesto of ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf.

“The Army stood by my decisions including those regarding relations with India, opening of Kartarpur Corridor and the coronavirus pandemic.”

He said the Army could not be cursed due to mistakes made by some dictators. “If a dictator made mistakes, we should not blame the whole army like if Justice Munir had given a wrong decision we should not call the judiciary bad. If [some] politicians plunder wealth and stash it abroad, then are all politicians bad?”

He said Pakistan’s history gave the lesson that the military’s job was not to run the government. “If a democratically elected government is performing poorly, it does not mean martial law should be imposed; it means the government should be improved. Similarly, if a judge gives a wrong decision it means the judiciary has to evolve. The Army has evolved as well.”

The prime minister said Mr Sharif had always had problems with various army chiefs, including Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, whom he himself had appointed. “Nawaz Sharif was never a democratic man” and had joined politics with the Army’s support, he added.

“Only the Army was not under his control. This is why he couldn’t get along [with them],” he said.

He said Mr Sharif was playing a dangerous game by maligning the army. “This is a dangerous game Nawaz is playing; Altaf Hussain played the same game, and I am 100 per cent sure that India is helping Nawaz,” he added.

“Whose interest is it that our army weakens? Our enemies,” the PM said, adding that some “foolish liberals” were agreeing with Mr Sharif’s narrative.

He said the PML-N supremo was creating a “huge Fitna (mischief)” by attacking the Army.

Responding to a question about Mr Sharif’s return to Pakistan, the prime minister said his government was asking the British government to send him back and that there was a plan in place.

“The government allowed Nawaz to leave on humanitarian grounds ... and now he is there [in London] and has started politics. We know he is meeting different people and conspiring against the nation,” he added.

Prime Minister Khan said he was the “first person in the country’s history” who had won elections from five constituencies and who had not been “grown in a military nursery like Nawaz or Zulfikar Ali Bhutto”.

“Justice [Asif Saeed] Khosa during the Panama Papers case had said that all institutions in Pakistan were rotten and paralysed,” he said. “Only one institution is intact which is the Army and we take its assistance to fight Covid-19, locusts, etc. If I hadn’t sent the NDMA to clean Nullahs [in Karachi], more water would have entered [buildings].”

He said Mr Sharif during his tenure had controlled the civil institutions and even the judiciary and had his workers attack the Supreme Court “when justice Sajjad Ali Shah could not be controlled”.

He said army had the biggest say in security affairs in any country in the world and (in Pakistan) the Army’s opinion was sought on India. “It is important that [Army] explains what security issues are coming up. Whenever there is a security matter, I prefer the Army to explain because it has institutional memory,” he added.

Answering another question regarding a meeting held between prominent opposition leaders and the army chief, Prime Minister Khan said Gen Bajwa had called the meeting on Gilgit-Baltistan after asking him (Khan). “There was a purpose behind [the meeting],” he said, adding that “India is active in GB; it is also part of the CPEC route and ... the region is in limbo. The people there want rights and India is exploiting that.”

Prime Minister Khan said India wanted to create disturbance in the country by fomenting a Shia-Sunni conflict.

“We knew for three months that they (Indians) were aiming for assassination of Shia and Sunni scholars. Thank God our agencies caught them as a terrorist group was busted in Punjab,” he revealed.

Asked about the opposition’s planned protest movement, the prime minister said he was not threatened by the opposition’s recent announcement to launch a street movement against him. He added that no one could know about street movements better than him.

“To make the public come out, you need to pick something that interests the masses. They (opposition) can never lure masses to come out,” he said, adding that Mr Sharif was targeting institutions while sitting abroad so he could get an NRO-like deal.

“I am under no pressure. If someone today asks me to give them an NRO to save my premiership, I will step down.”

He said the opposition had the right to observe peaceful protest. “They can do that as much as they want but if they step outside the law, I will put them all in jails,” he warned.

Regarding his visit to the General Headquarters in 2014, Mr Khan said the then PML-N government had “asked [the then army chief Gen] Raheel Sharif to talk to us. He asked us to end the sit-in; we said no, everyone knows that”.

He said it “would be great” if the opposition decided to resign from the assemblies. “If we give in to them, our coming generations will never forgive us,” he added.

Published in Dawn, October 2nd, 2020

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