Blaming social media for the ‘misunderstandings’ that arose between the previous army chief and former prime minister Imran Khan, President Arif Alvi said that he had been making efforts to remove these differences, and would continue to do so.

In an interview with BBC Urdu, published on Thursday, the president said that giving undue importance to what was being said on social media platforms was one of the main reasons behind the misunderstandings between retired Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and Mr Khan.

In his view, even now, those in power were not able to ‘ha­­ndle’ the medium properly, adding that “YouTube was shut down in Pakistan for two years because the decision-makers couldn’t handle it”.

While admitting that social media has its own importance, he said that when it is given “undue importance in polarisation”, it causes problems.

“This is what I have been telling everyone: worry about your own problems, not [what is on] the social media, or who abused who. This is not important,” he said, adding that it would be very sad if the history of Pakistan reflected that it was social media that pushed the country towards destruction.

Expressing serious concerns regarding the country’s economy, he has said that if all the stakeholders, including the political parties, do not ignore the differences and start discussions, the economic situation may worsen.

In the interview, he said that it was important to lower political temperatures in the country and, to this end, “offered dialogue among all stakeholders”.

He also claimed that the current coalition government is being “evasive” in talks with the PTI, saying that there had been no contact between the two sides over the past month, nor was the government responding to requests for negotiations.

President Alvi also advis­­ed the military establishme­nt and the country’s political parties that “cooperation is better than disagreement”.

“This is important for Pakistan. This is the advice I give to everyone in public and in private.”

When the interviewer asked the president whether differences between Imran and the ex-army chief developed over the appointment of the country’s spymaster, the president said he would not talk about a specific person or incident.

However, without naming anyone, the president said that “all parties were demonstrating inflexibility” and his advice was not sought.

He further said that he advised those being inflexible to let bygones be bygones, adding that “it “would have been better” if his advice was heeded.

“If you look at the surveys from that time, the entire country was saying that talks should take place. I still don’t understand who was more reluctant. When I say let bygones be bygones, people are unable to do it.”

The BBC Urdu report noted that President Alvi did not state if he was talking about the PTI or the former army chief, but said that “everyone was taking revenge in the political arena”.

The president was also asked whether there was any truth to reports claiming that the PTI had tried to convince retired Gen Bajwa to extend his tenure during the meetings he facilitated.

The president responded by saying that he was unaware of the offers that were made.

“But I said that misunderstandings should be resolved by sitting together. Be it any political party, the opposition or the establishment, I am ready to play the role of a mediator.”

Published in Dawn, January 13th, 2023

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