No breakthrough in backdoor talks, Alvi admits

Published November 13, 2022
This file photo shows President Dr Arif Alvi in an interview with journalist Asma Shirazi. — Screengrab
This file photo shows President Dr Arif Alvi in an interview with journalist Asma Shirazi. — Screengrab

• President says he is mediating as supreme commander, not a ‘broker’
• Gen Bajwa spends busy day in Lahore on farewell visits
• PTI sources claim establishment ‘on board’, Nawaz poses final hurdle

LAHORE: At a time of tense rel­a­tions between the military establishment and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) following PTI chief Imran Khan’s multiple accusations against senior military officers, President Dr Arif Alvi confirmed his ‘backdoor’ efforts to reach out to all political players as well as the powers that be to find a workable solution to end the chaos, though he admits his efforts haven’t borne fruit as yet.

Amidst the charged political scenario, President Alvi and Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa were both in Lahore on Saturday, and there was speculation that the two along with Mr Khan would meet ‘behind closed doors’ for ‘negotiations’, but no such huddle had taken place till the filing of this report by Saturday night. Dr Alvi has already facilitated at least one direct meeting between Gen Bajwa and Mr Khan at the Presidency a couple of months ago, by his own admission.

Replying to a question on the all-important appointment of the new army chief expected in the next few days, President Alvi told journalists at the Governor House on Saturday that the Constitution did not allow consultation over the appointment, in reference to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s reported discussions with his elder brother Nawaz Sharif who was a convict. However, he added there was no harm in certain consultations either (with stakeholders).

Read: Mum’s the word as ‘N’ bigwigs ponder new army chief

He further said: “Backdoor talks are under way with the institutions that matter to sort out the differences (among the players). If the talks succeed, they will be in the public domain. I am playing the role of a mediator as the supreme commander of the armed forces, but I am not a broker.”

Dr Alvi, who belongs to the PTI, added he was also playing his role in defusing tensions between the institution and party Chairman Imran Khan. “It is my effort that relations between the establishment and Imran Khan improve.”

He also talked about the ‘task’ his party chief had entrusted him with regarding fresh elections. “It will be better if fresh elections are announced,” he remarked.

He also dispelled the impression that he sought instructions from Mr Khan. “Imran is my old friend and leader, but I don’t seek his counsel (on the affairs of my office),” the president insisted.

On the other hand, Gen Bajwa, whose extended tenure is set to end on Nov 29, visited the Lahore Garrison. He laid a floral wreath at the Martyrs’ Monument and offered prayers. He also inaugurated the Lahore Garrison Institute for Special Education and visited various school facilities for special children. The army chief also inaugurated a state-of-the-art hockey arena where he interacted with veteran hockey legends.

Gen Bajwa also interacted with officers and men of the Lahore Corps and Pakistan Rangers Punjab. During his farewell address, he lauded the troops for their services to the nation in the line of duty despite all odds.

‘No flexibility’ from Nawaz

Sources also said that PML-N supreme leader Nawaz Sharif was not showing any flexibility over the options presented to him, including on the question of holding snap polls.PML-N sources told Dawn the elder Sharif was not willing to budge on the suggestions conveyed to him by the powers that be through his brother Shehbaz.

On the other hand, PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari has communicated to Nawaz his party’s choice for the slot of the army chief. “The Sharif brothers have someone else in mind. PM Shehbaz will take the PPP leadership into confidence upon his return in this respect,” the source said.

A PTI insider claimed the military establishment had agreed to Mr Khan’s demand for holding snap polls, but Nawaz Sharif was not ready to concede. “The delay in the premier’s return from London should be seen in this context,” he added.

Published in Dawn, November 13th, 2022

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