•Believes three-time PM couldn’t have made allegations without evidence
•Says army, ISI chiefs’ resignation not among opposition demands
•Zubair insists PML-N’s stance ‘based on facts’
• Shibli says opposition no more stands united, Firdous terms interview last nail in PDM’s coffin

KARACHI: Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Friday said he was ‘shocked’ when he heard Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz supremo Nawaz Sharif naming the military leadership in his address at the Pakistan Democratic Movement’s rally in Gujranwala for allegedly orchestrating his ouster from office.

The PML-N supremo, who had thrice served as the prime minister, would not have taken the names of General Qamar Javed Bajwa and Gen Faiz Hameed without any evidence as “these are not the kind of allegations you make against anyone in a rally”, he said in reply to a question during an interview with BBC Urdu in Gilgit-Baltistan where he has been running his party’s campaign for the Nov 15 election.

In his speech livestreamed from London, Nawaz had questioned who made the “state above a state” and who was responsible for two parallel governments in the country, going on to name Gen Bajwa. He had also named Gen Faiz as being behind his ouster as premier and for “bringing Imran Khan into power”.

The PPP chairman made it clear that when the agenda for the 11-party opposition alliance was being prepared, the PML-N supremo or other leaders of his party did not bring up the matter of naming the army or ISI chiefs in public meetings. Instead it was decided at the multiparty conference that “a single institution would not be named” though the establishment would when it was debated whether the blame should be laid on one institution or the entire establishment, he explained.

He went on to say that when he explicitly heard Nawaz take the names of army and ISI chiefs, “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.”

“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,” he said, adding that he would “wait for Nawaz to bring forward evidence corroborating his claims”.

Asked whether the PDM was naming the country’s top military leadership in a bid to pressure them to resign, the PPP chairman reiterated that taking names was Nawaz’s or his party’s “personal decision”, emphasising that resignation of the military leadership was not one of the opposition demands.

“Let me make this clear that this [resignation of military leadership] is not a part of our [26] demands and does not reflect our position,” he said, adding that personally he refrained from levelling accusations at rallies without any evidence.

The PPP chairman said that the establishment in his view had several meanings and it was not possible to point towards one individual, arguing that bringing someone into power could not be attributed to just one person. “Let me also say that this will not be discussed at rallies,” he declared.

He 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 was the policy of all the parties,” he added.

Commenting on the inquiry into the events surrounding the arrest of PML-N leader Mohammad Safdar in Karachi, Mr Bhutto-Zardari said: “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 the army chief did not have further correspondence with him on the matter.

About Gilgit-Baltistan election, the PPP chairman said it should be free and transparent. He called PM Khan’s announcement for grant of provisional provincial status to the region as part of pre-poll ‘rigging’. He said: “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.”

Shibli, Firdous react

Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Senator Shibli Faraz said that the interview 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 added.

In a tweet, Special Assistant to the Punjab Chief Minister and former PM’s aide Firdous Ashiq Awan said: “Bilawal’s statement is the final nail in the opposition’s alliance coffin. It’s clear now that Bhutto-Zardari has distanced himself from PML-N’s narrative.”

PML-N says Nawaz’s statement ‘based on facts’

In a statement issued shortly after Bilawal’s interview with BBC Urdu was published, leader of the opposition party and Nawaz’s spokesperson Mohammad Zubair said the PML-N respected Bilawal as he was a part of the alliance and termed it Bilawal’s personal opinion.

“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,” the PML-N leader stated.

“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.”

Published in Dawn, November 7th, 2020

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