ISLAMABAD, Aug 5: Prime Minister Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain has disputed a claim made by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif that he had been kept in the dark by Gen Pervez Musharraf on the Kargil conflict.
In an interview with the India Today magazine, the prime minister said that Mr Sharif lied when he claimed that he had come to know about Kargil only "when he got a call from prime minister Vajpayee."
He said: "I was interior minister during that period and there were six separate occasions where he was briefed on Kargil. It began when Nawaz visited Skardu on Jan 29, 1999.
He was again briefed by the army on Feb 5 (just two weeks before Mr Vajpayee's famous bus ride to Lahore). Then he, along with some cabinet colleagues, including me, was updated by senior military officers on March 12. I went late for it. At the end of it, Nawaz asked all of us to pray for the success of the mission."
When asked about the nature of the plan, Chaudhry Shujaat said: "Nawaz used to be very sketchy in telling his cabinet colleagues about important issues. But in a meeting at the office of the director-general of military operations on May 17, 1999 (days before the full-fledged war began), I remember Nawaz asking whether the Dras-Kargil road led to Srinagar.
He also said that the Kashmir issue could not be resolved through bus journeys and the military should keep up its operations." When asked if it was not strange that just three months earlier he had signed a peace agreement with Mr Vajpayee, the prime minister said: "Nawaz wanted to move on both tracks.
He was not so interested in Kargil as much as he was in getting his name associated with the success in Kashmir". When it was pointed out that Mr Sharif had claimed that barring a few generals no-one, not even the chiefs of air force and navy, was briefed, Chaudhry Shujaat said: "Nawaz is just trying to confuse the issue. Musharraf didn't embark on this mission on his own.
It is practically impossible. Now Nawaz says the air force and navy chiefs didn't know. But weren't the three services meeting regularly? Also when something is happening in the country and the prime minister doesn't know of it, then what kind of a prime minister is he? For Nawaz to say that he knew absolutely nothing about the Kargil war plans is wrong. As a Punjabi saying goes, he may want to close his eyes like a pigeon but the cat will not go away.
"Just before Nawaz left for the US on July 2, there was a detailed briefing by the chiefs of army, navy and air force for the Defence Cabinet Committee. I was also there along with foreign minister Sartaj Aziz. At first, the briefing was conducted by a brigadier.
Then Gen Musharraf stood up and took over. When he sat down Nawaz told him, 'General sahib, I didn't know about these things before. Then (Gen) Musharraf took out a diary, turned page after page and gave the dates on which he had briefed Nawaz. To this, Nawaz had no answer.
Then I said this should be the last meeting on this issue. That instead of blaming each other, the message should go out to the public that it was a joint effort and a collective responsibility. Nawaz did not respond to my suggestion. He just got up and shook hands with everyone seated on his left. I was on his right side, he didn't shake my hand.
"During detailed briefings, Nawaz would listen but he didn't seem to register anything - he had an attention span of five minutes. He also had a cavalier style of taking decisions.
At the start of a cabinet meeting, he would go through the agenda items and say '1, 2, 3, 4 - all approved' without consulting us. In the corridors, he would at times reverse cabinet decisions soon after they were approved.
Nawaz also has had a history of memory lapses. In 1992, he ordered an operation against the MQM in Karachi but when he was out of power he denied any involvement and instead blamed it on the then army chief.
When asked about Mr Sharif's demand for a commission on Kargil, he said: "Nawaz was prime minister for four months or so after Kargil and he could have easily set up a commission during that time.
Why didn't he do so? He had the powers to sack Musharraf with the stroke of a pen. But he did not use it. Instead, he misused his powers by trying to divert the aircraft carrying Musharraf from Sri Lanka and precipitated events.
It doesn't behove a former prime minister to undermine national interests by revealing state secrets sitting in a foreign country. He acts like the prime minister of a hostile country. He should not have gone to this extent."
When the prime minister was asked why did he not set up a commission, he said: "Will this Kargil commission end unemployment? Will it provide bread or remove poverty? Will it bring prices down? If the only purpose is to make political gain, then why raise this dead issue? There is a time and place for everything.
This is an attempt to sabotage the India-Pakistan dialogue at a time when we are all moving towards peace. A Kargil commission would lead to allegations and counter-allegations and the peace process will get derailed. Far from being patriotic, the call for a Kargil commission is a conspiracy."
EXILE DEAL: On the issue of Mr Sharif's exile to Saudi Arabia, Chaudhry Shujaat said that the deal under which the Sharifs had left the country also stipulated that it (the deal) would not be made public.
However, the prime minister indicated that if the matter ended up in the Supreme Court, the judges would be briefed on the deal in the chambers. He said there were two types of deals - one for a pardon against his conviction which he signed along with his brothers Shahbaz and Abbas and his son Hussain.
The other deal was between the governments of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in which Mr Sharif gave a list of about 30 people and it was agreed that they would go into exile in Saudi Arabia for a period of 10 years.
Chaudhry Shujaat also said that the passports of Mr Sharif and his entourage had been seized by the Saudi authorities on arrival. Therefore, there could be no question of the government refusing to renew his passport because he could not apply for renewal when he did not have his passport.
On the uniform issue, he said: "The 17th Amendment carried everyone's signature, including mine. It is an unnecessary demand to get Musharraf to say right now at what place and at what time he will take off his uniform. I assure you that the decision will be made in accordance with the provisions in the amendment. It can be interpreted in many ways and only the supreme court can do it."