LAHORE: As the top leadership of the PML-N continues to rail against the former generals, in an apparent bid to reclaim their “vote ko izzat do” narrative before going into elections, a key leader confessed on Thursday that the party had supported an extension for former army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa in order to contain PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s onslaught.

“Voting for Gen Bajwa’s extension [in 2020] was a tactical move by the party to fight the fitna (anarchy),” former interior minister Rana Sanaullah said during an appearance on Samaa TV on Thursday, using a term he frequently employs to refer to the PTI chief.

The former army chief’s extension became a bone of contention between the judiciary and the PTI regime in 2019 when the top court suspended then-PM Imran Khan’s notification, granting Gen Bajwa an extension. After much legal wrangling, the court had allowed the general to continue in office for six months after the government assured it that it would legislate to provide legal cover to this ‘grey area’.

Eventually, in early 2020, parliament had unanimously passed amendments to the Army Act that cemented the extension, with the PML-N being among the parties that voted for it.

This was Mr Sanaullah’s second outburst against the former top brass in as many days. A day earlier, he had assailed former generals Bajwa and Faiz Hameed, declaring them “national criminals” and demanded action against them. “The way the PML-N brought Gen Pervez Musharraf to justice, it will do the same to [both men],” he had said on Wednesday.

He had also reinforced party supremo Nawaz Sharif’s recent statement, seeking ‘strict accountability’ of former generals and judges, saying that it was a policy statement on behalf of the party.

In an online address to party ticket holders in Lahore a couple of days ago, the elder Sharif had said: “(Former) chief justices Saqib Nisar and Asif Saeed Khosa were tools of former army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and his spy chief Gen Faiz Hameed. Their crime is bigger than a murder offence. Pardoning them will be an injustice to the nation. They don’t deserve a pardon.”

However, it should be noted that on the same day, the elder Sharif’s daughter Maryam Nawaz had tried to walk back some of the venom in her father’s comments by saying that “neither he nor she believed in taking revenge”.

Sources told Dawn that the party supremo had told the leaders to adopt “an aggressive stance” against both Gen Bajwa and Gen Hameed and some former and incumbent judges.

Meanwhile, a leader from the Shehbaz camp, while talking to Dawn, said that after Mr Nawaz’s outburst, some quarters advised the party not to take an extreme position on the matter.

Mr Shehbaz, who left for London on Wednesday, might talk to his brother and convince him to dilute his tone.

“Mr Shehbaz never uttered a word against Gen Bajwa since he assumed the prime minister’s office and even after leaving the position, showing how careful he is in such matters,” the leader said.

Published in Dawn, September 22nd, 2023

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