A day after the PPP co-chairman’s angry outburst against the army generals caused a political stir in the country, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif excused himself from a scheduled meeting with Asif Ali Zardari and called the latter’s unsavoury criticism of the national security institution ‘inappropriate’.
Zardari fired a broadside at the powerful security establishment on Tuesday and threatened to “expose the misdeeds of the generals”. He also said that if his and his party’s ‘character assassination’ didn’t stop, he would bring the country – from Karachi to Khyber – to a grinding halt. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan was quick to issue a scathing rejoinder to the ‘insulting and uncalled for’ remarks of Zardari.
On Wednesday however, Premier Nawaz said criticising the armed forces would only encourage those elements who wanted to put hurdles in the way of development and progress by destabilising the country. He described a national level consensus ‘a must’ at this critical phase in the war against terrorism and said the country could only be put on the path to progress and prosperity with political stability and national accord, according to a press release issued after a high-level consultative session at the prime minister’s office.
“The officers and jawans of the Pakistan Army are performing their effective role in Operation Zarb-e-Azb and implementing the National Action Plan and they have the support of the whole nation,” Premier Nawaz said. “In such circumstances criticism of an important institution like Pakistan Army is an inappropriate step.”
“Coordination between the civilian and military leadership has strengthened democracy. This harmony is evident in the decisions taken by the all parties’ conferences during which the civilian and military leadership had set joint national targets,” he added. “This process should continue with the same passion.”
Attendees at Wednesday’s huddle included federal ministers Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Mushahidullah Khan, Khawaja Asif, Ishaq Dar, Pervaiz Rashid, Ahsan Iqbal, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Khawaja Saad Rafique, Abdul Qadir Baloch and Advisers to the Prime Minister Irfan Siddiqui and Dr Asif Kirmani.
According to sources, the premier’s senior aides advised him to cancel his scheduled meeting with Asif Zardari because if the interaction took place it would send a negative signal to the security establishment. The information minister later said Zardari’s angry outburst against the army left the premier with no option but to call off the meeting.
Rashid said the PPP co-chairman should have been careful in his choice of words. “It’s not wise to pass such statements when the military is fighting militancy and terrorism,” he added. “It’s our duty and obligation to honour the services and sacrifices rendered by our security forces.”
According to sources, the consultative meeting decided that the interior and defence ministers would not only defend the national institutions but would also reflect the ruling party’s policy on the matter. Similarly, Talal Chaudhry, Mushahidullah, Danyal Aziz and Rana Sanaullah will counter the PPP’s narrative.
The meeting participants concurred that Zardari’s tirade was, in fact, an attempt to preempt any action against PPP leaders who have, of late, come under scathing criticism from opposition parties. “Offence is the best defence is the popular philosophy of Zardari,” the meeting participants agreed.
In his Tuesday’s speech, Zardari had said that had his party sided with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf in its campaign against the PML-N government, Imran Khan would have succeeded. The PM’s top aides agreed that by reminding his party’s support to the government during the dharna, the PPP co-chairman wanted the PML-N to return the ‘favour’. However, they also concurred that Zardari’s tirade had no support on the ground.
The consultative meeting decided that the 2nd phase of the surgical operation in Karachi, which envisages arrest of political patrons of organised crimes, would continue, come what may. However, neither the current political setup would be changed nor governor’s rule declared in the province, the participants said, adding that the PPP would not be allowed to present itself as a ‘political martyr’.
Separately, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif advised Zardari to focus on restoring peace in Sindh instead of using anti-army language. He said the PPP government in Sindh should better improve its performance and the party’s co-chairman should refrain from targeting Pakistan Army’s dignity.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 18th, 2015.