PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said on Friday that he was "shocked" when he heard PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif's speech during the Pakistan Democratic Movement's (PDM) first rally in Gujranwala last month in which Nawaz named the country's top military leadership for orchestrating his ouster among other things.
The PPP chairman made the revelation during an exclusive interview with BBC Urdu, in which he discussed several topics, including the upcoming Gilgit-Baltistan elections and the 11-party opposition alliance.
In October, Nawaz had addressed the PDM's Gujranwala rally and accused the security establishment of being behind his ouster as prime minister and for "bringing Imran Khan into power".
In his speech, which was aired via video link from London, Nawaz had questioned who made the "state above a state" and who was responsible for the two governments in this country, going on to name Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa. He had also named Lt Gen Faiz Hameed as being behind everything.
In his interview with BBC Urdu, Bilawal said neither Nawaz nor his party had brought up naming the army or ISI chiefs when the PDM's agenda was being prepared.
"During the all-parties conference, there was debate on whether the blame should be laid on one institution or the entire establishment," Bilawal said, adding that "it was decided that a single institution would not be named, the establishment would."
Bilawal went on to say that when he explicitly heard Nawaz take the names of the COAS and the ISI chief, he was "shocked".
"It was a shock for me because, typically, we don't talk like this at rallies. But Nawaz heads his own party and I can't control what he says, just like he can't control what I say," Bilawal said.
When asked whether the opposition alliance was naming the country’s top military leadership in a bid to pressurise them to resign, the PPP chairman said taking names was Nawaz and his party’s “personal decision”, emphasising that the opposition did not want the military leadership to resign.
"Let me make this clear that this (resignation of military leadership) is not a part of our demands and does not reflect our position."
He added that personally, he refrained from levelling accusations at rallies when it comes to his own party. "But Nawaz has the right to take such a stand if he so wishes."
Bilawal said that Nawaz — who has served as the country's prime minister thrice — would not have taken the names of Gen Bajwa and Gen Faiz without evidence.
"As far as taking the names of the COAS and the ISI chief is concerned, I think — and I am certain — that Nawaz will not have done so without any evidence. Such allegations should come forward on the basis of evidence.
"These are not the kind of allegations you make against anyone during a rally. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, I have not had the opportunity to meet Nawaz in person, which is very important, so that we can discuss the matter in detail."
However, Bilawal said, he will "wait for Nawaz to bring forward evidence supporting his claims".
The PPP chief also said that in his view, the establishment had several meanings and it was not possible to point towards one individual. "Let me also say that this will not be discussed at rallies."
Bilawal also said that brining Prime Minister Imran Khan into power cannot be attributed to just one person. He also dispelled the notion that the PPP had not openly stated its stance using the PDM platform.
"The PDM came into existence during an all-parties conference called by the PPP and the agenda of the alliance is the policy of all the parties.
"Nawaz can speak in his own manner, that is his right. I will speak in my own manner."
Commenting on the inquiry into the events surrounding the arrest of PML-N leader retired Capt Mohammad Safdar in Karachi, Bilawal said he had not had further correspondence with the army chief in this regard.
"However, I am aware that an inquiry is currently ongoing. I am certain that the inquiry will be completed and those responsible will be identified and punished. Right now I am waiting patiently to be informed about the inquiry," he said.
Bilawal — who has been in Gilgit-Baltistan for the past several days drumming up support for the PPP in the upcoming legislative assembly polls — said that elections in the region should be free and transparent.
He also called the premier's announcement regarding granting the region provisional provincial status an attempt at "rigging".
"We have seen the prime minister going back on his promises. Before the 2018 elections, he promised the people of south Punjab a separate province in 100 days. This did not happen. So, we will wait and see because if the premier can make a U-turn before the election, then he can also do it after the election."
'Nawaz's statement based on facts'
PML-N leader and Nawaz's spokesperson Mohammad Zubair issued a statement shortly after Bilawal's interview was published, saying that his party respected Bilawal as he was a part of the opposition alliance.
"This is Bilawal's personal opinion. Nawaz has served as the country's premier and there was a PML-N government even after his (Nawaz's) ouster. What he (Nawaz) said at the Gujranwala rally comes from the experience of the PML-N government," Zubair said in a statement.
"This is obvious that it did not happen with the PPP. We think it is important to inform the people about what happened to ensure civilian supremacy so that what happened in the past is not repeated in the future. What Nawaz said was based on facts."
Meanwhile, Information Minister Shibli Faraz said Bilawal's statement was proof of the fact that the PDM was not united in its stance.
"Bilawal has voiced his distrust of Nawaz. This proves that the alliance of opposition parties is based on vested interests," he said.
Firdous Ashiq Awan — who has recently made a comeback as the adviser to the Punjab chief minister on information — said Bilawal's statement had put the final nail in the opposition alliance's coffin.