• Ministers, PML-N leaders spar over interaction with ‘hostile Afghan official’
• Govt demands transcripts of discussion
• Ishaq sees meeting as ‘damage control for PTI’s failed foreign policy’
LONDON: A political storm has erupted over a meeting between Afghan National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supreme leader and ex-premier Nawaz Sharif when the pictures of the meeting were released by the National Security Council of Afghanistan on Saturday.
The Afghan NSC tweeted the pictures along with a statement a day after the meeting took place in London.
As news of the meeting spread on social media, senior government figures criticised the PML-N leader and later at a press conference demanded an explanation for why Nawaz met a hostile Afghan official whom Islamabad had cut off contact with after he made controversial remarks against Pakistan earlier this year.
The Afghan NSA arrived in the UK on July 21 for a two-day visit, during which he met senior British government and military officials, politicians as well as journalists.
Sources told Dawn that the Afghan NSA contacted former finance minister Ishaq Dar in London “months earlier”, with a request to meet Nawaz on the direction of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani who wished for a discussion on the regional situation. They added that the Afghan delegation met Nawaz at his son’s office premises near Hyde Park on Friday July 23, and that the Afghan team included Afghan State Minister for Peace Sayed Sadat Naderi, national security advisor Mohib, Afghan Ambassador to the UK Said Tayeb Jawad as well as three diplomatic staff members.
From the PML-N side, Nawaz Sharif and former finance minister Ishaq Dar were present.
In a statement released after the meeting, the Afghan NSC said the participants discussed “matters of mutual interest”.
Dar said: “They [the Afghan officials] contacted us about the meeting months earlier — prior to the faux pas.”
In May, Islamabad cut off communication with the Afghan NSA after Mohib had made controversial remarks against Pakistan comparing it to a “brothel”.
Dar said the controversial remarks were made after the meeting request had been accepted, and that “the choice was between cancelling and going ahead with it”. The PML-N leader said: “We decided to do the latter and meet them in the national interest, because we wanted to do damage control for the government’s failed foreign policy,” argued Dar while speaking to Dawn.
“Obviously we spoke in Pakistan’s interest. We do not want Pakistan to go into isolation as a result of foreign policy failures. We do not want to give a message to the international community that we are operating as a hegemony. Why should we not do damage control in Pakistan’s interest?”
Senior ruling party leaders critcised Nawaz Sharif for meeting Mohib, with Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry calling the Afghan NSA “RAW’s biggest ally in Afghanistan”.
“Be it Modi, Mohib or Amrullah Saleh [vice president of Afghanistan], every enemy of Pakistan is a close friend of Nawaz Sharif,” the federal minister tweeted.
Also, federal Minister for Planning, Development, Reforms Asad Umar hit out at Nawaz, saying: “Mohib is the same individual who recently compared Pakistan to Heera Mandi”, and asked why Nawaz was “seeking revenge on his own people” by meeting the Afghan NSA.
While addressing a presser last month, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmud Qureshi had said: “My blood has been boiling ever since you [Afghan NSA] compared Pakistan to a brothel house. You should be ashamed of yourself and must reform your conduct.”
“As a foreign minister of Pakistan, I tell you that no Pakistani will talk to you or shake hands with you until you stop foul-mouthing Pakistan,” he added, referring to Mohib.
In response to the Twitter storm over the Nawaz-Mohib meeting, PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz posted: “It is the very essence of diplomacy to talk to everyone, listen to their point of view and convey one’s own message across: something this government doesn’t comprehend and hence is a complete failure on the international front.”
She also tweeted a photo collage of Nawaz’s meeting with Mohib alongside an earlier meeting of the Afghan NSA with Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, with the remarks, “Both pictures nice, no?”
Mr Chaudhry responded to these tweets, saying: “Meetings in an individual capacity and organisational capacity are different. After the third week of May, after he [Mohib] made those controversial remarks against Pakistan, no Pakistan official met with him [Mohib].”
“Imran Khan does not do secret meetings,” the information minister claimed, adding that Nawaz had a “dubious history of such meetings”.
At a press conference held in Islamabad to discuss the issue of Pegasus software spying, Mr Chaudhry said: “We are quite disturbed [about this meeting] given the circumstances in which it took place.”
He said Mohib used foul language against Pakistan in the third week of May after which the government cut off all communications with the Afghan NSA office. “We made it clear that we will not discuss policy with these individuals.”
Nawaz met an individual whose “links to India are not hidden”, he remarked. “It is very disappointing. We want to ask Nawaz Sharif and his party: did Nawaz ask his party [before the meeting]? He should have notified the government to say he will be meeting the Afghan NSA and to say what would be discussed. If he didn’t want to inform the government, then did he take the senior leadership of the party into confidence? If he met [the NSA] in his personal capacity, then [he should know] he has been the prime minister three times. The audio transcripts should be released to the public.”
According to the PML-N sources in Islamabad, the party was unaware of the meeting before it happened but disclose that the ex-premier has been called on by several international diplomats while he has been in London and that these meetings are routine affairs.
Speaking to Dawn, senior PML-N leader Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said: “The Afghan delegation met Mian Nawaz Sharif on the directions of the Afghan President. The meeting had been scheduled several months in advance and the delegation including the Afghan NSA met Mian Sahib as representatives of the Afghan President.
“Afghanistan is our neighbouring country, and Mian Sahib recognises his responsibility as a leading Pakistani political leader in helping reduce tensions and improving relations in the region. This meeting is unfortunately being politicised by petty vested interests.”
Published in Dawn, July 25th, 2021