ISLAMABAD : Three-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif has been in the limelight for months, but for all the wrong reasons. On Sunday, he was once again making the headlines, and this time for stirring a new controversy on Pakistan’s role in the November 2008 Mumbai attacks.
“Militant organisations are active. Call them non-state actors, should we allow them to cross the border and kill 150 people in Mumbai? Explain it to me. Why can’t we complete the trial?” Sharif asked in an interview to Dawn.
“We have isolated ourselves. Despite giving sacrifices, our narrative is not being accepted. Afghanistan’s narrative is being accepted, but ours is not. We must look into it,” he added.
His remarks were immediately picked up by Indian media, which termed the former prime minister’s statement as a confession of Pakistan’s role in the Mumbai attacks that left 166 people dead.
Back home, opposition parties including the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) launched a broadside against Sharif, calling him a security threat.
Even PML-N stalwart Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the former interior minister, did not endorse Sharif’s statement. He held India responsible for the delay in the trial of the Mumbai attack suspects.
The news also went viral on social media with Sharif’s critics coming down hard on the former prime minister, while his supporters put up a strong defence for him.
But the discussion did not remain confined to social media and his political opponents; Sharif’s statement also shook the army as well.
Late in the evening, the chief military spokesperson announced through his official Twitter handle that the National Security Committee (NSC) — the highest forum on issues of national security — would meet today (Monday) to discuss the Sharif’s “misleading statement”.
The meeting was being convened on the suggestion of Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, said Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director-General Major-General Asif Ghafoor.
The PM Office usually issues statements on the NSC. However, it remained tight-lipped on the issue.
Although Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and his cabinet members did not offer any statement, the ruling party did issue a statement clarifying that Sharif’s statement was misquoted and blown out of proportion by Indian channels and a section of the Pakistani media.
Defending the former prime minister, the PML-N insisted that its supreme leader “need no certificate from anybody on their commitment and capacity to preserve, protect and promote Pakistan’s national security”.
It went on to add that the statement of the former prime minister had been “grossly misinterpreted by the Indian media”.
“Unfortunately, a section of Pakistani electronic and social media has intentionally or unintentionally not only validated but has lent credence to the malicious propaganda of Indian media without going through the full facts of the statement,” the statement further said.
While many on the social media called Sharif a security risk and some even demanded that he be tried for treason under Article 6 of the Constitution, the PML-N reminded such people that it was Sharif, who “resisted all pressures and took the most important and most difficult decision on national security in Pakistan’s history by making the country a nuclear power in May 1998”.
Some PML-N leaders insisted that Sharif did not say anything new. “If militants from Pakistan were not involved in the Mumbai attacks, then why did the country initiate the trial of seven Pakistani suspects in the first place?” they asked.
Some of them also referred to a statement given by the then-National Security Adviser Maj-Gen (retd) Muhammad Ali Durrani, who admitted that Ajmal Kasab was indeed a Pakistani. That was the first time any Pakistani official had confirmed Kasab’s nationality after the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
“Did anyone question Durrani for his statement,” one PML-N leader asked before noting that Sharif merely repeated established facts.
Official sources predicted a tense NSC huddle that would be presided over by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and attended by the three services chiefs as well as then head of the ISI.
Sources said the prime minister is expected to defend Sharif and reiterate that his statement on the Mumbai attacks was misinterpreted and taken out of context.
The military leadership, however, may persuade the prime minister to issue a strong rebuttal as they believe that Sharif’s remarks caused great harm to Pakistan’s narrative against terrorism.