• Terms publication of confidential cipher, if proven, a ‘massive crime’
• Expresses unhappiness with Imran’s incarceration
• Says Nawaz to return next month
KARACHI: Railing against former prime minister Imran Khan for running a hybrid regime, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has admitted that even his government could not run without support from the military.
In an interview with Geo News broadcast on Thursday, when anchor Hamid Mir pointed out that Pakistan was among the most prominent examples of hybrid regimes in the world today, PM Shehbaz said that Mr Khan had relied heavily on the former army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa.
“Mr Khan also received military support during his tenure. His government was a blend of various components, despite his accusations against others for the same. Every government requires backing from key sectors, including the military,” he said.
Earlier, in a separate interview with journalist Ammar Masood, PM Shehbaz reacted to the publication of the purported text of a diplomatic cable describing a meeting between Pakistan’s former US envoy and a senior State Department official.
Regarding the publication of the purported text of the diplomatic cipher, the premier said: “If the contents of the message are published in an international newspaper and prove to be true, it would indeed be a ‘massive crime’.”
When asked if he thought The Intercept story confirmed Mr Khan’s assertions about a foreign plot to remove his government, PM Shehbaz said that he had chaired two meetings of the National Security Committee on the subject. “In one of these meetings, former ambassador and Foreign Secretary Asad Majeed explicitly mentioned that there was no talk of a conspiracy during his conversation with Donald Lu,” the outgoing PM explained.
Denying the existence of a conspiracy against Mr Khan’s government, PM Shehbaz accused the PTI chief of initially alleging a conspiracy, but later retracted his statement.
He said that former army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and other high-ranking military officials had also confirmed the absence of any conspiracy against Pakistan, while ambassador Asad Majeed Khan had also emphasized that there was no hint of a conspiracy.
“The PTI chairman offered various reasons for his government’s downfall. However, none of them seem logical, as his removal wasn’t due to his efforts to build relationships with Russia and other nations. If that were the case, why would Russia provide us with oil?” he questioned.
Pointing to the change in Mr Khan’s stance over the cable, especially how the ex-PM retracted his narrative and later denied any US conspiracy, the PM asked, “Should we believe his initial or later statement?”
“Is it acceptable for a former prime minister to display such strong hostility towards the country?” he questioned.
During the interviews, PM Shehbaz also shed light on the milestones his government achieved within the 16 months of his rule.
“I was not inherently suited for this role, yet with the backing of 13 political parties, I managed to lead the administration,” he remarked, adding that his regime had successfully brought Pakistan back from the brink of economic disaster. “We faced a huge flood, the worst ever, and managed it well. Plus, we’ve worked hard to improve how we deal with other countries and build new friendships,” he added.
Regarding a potential ban on PTI, he assured that those not linked with attacks on military installations on May 9 wouldn’t face such action. He also expressed unhappiness over the PTI chairman’s imprisonment, and advised him to be cautious with his words.
PM Shehbaz also stressed that he had no say in deciding where Mr Khan would be incarcerated, and recounted the hardships he and his family had to endure during their own time in prison.
“We, Nawaz Sharif and I, have been in Adiala Jail, Attock [Fort] and Attock Jail. Throughout, we managed with limited resources. During his time in power, Mr Khan instructed officers to make me sleep on the floor despite knowing of my back problem. So, we understand the challenges of this period,” he said, urging authorities to ensure basic facilities for prisoners.
PM Shehbaz also revealed that PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif would return to Pakistan next month, though he didn’t give an exact date.
“As soon as the caretaker government takes charge, I intend to take a trip to London, where I will meet my elder brother to finalise the programme,” he said. “But I can tell you right now that, God willing, he [Mr Nawaz] will return to Pakistan next month.”
On the possibility of the caretaker government “creating any issues” for Mr Nawaz upon his return, the premier said the elder Sharif “will face the law”.
He said Mr Nawaz would lead the PML-N’s election campaign and take the helm as prime minister for a fourth time if the party won polls.
Published in Dawn, August 11th, 2023