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May 17, 2018

Fallout of Nawaz Sharif statement


May 17, 2018

Disqualified Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has dropped a bombshell without realising where he has dropped and its possible fallout, internally and externally. Besides, timing of the statement on 2008 Mumbai attack, and the controversy which has emerged as a result of reaction and counter-reaction has further complicated the situation.

Just 24 hours after the National Security Committee (NSC), comprising top civil and military leadership, completely rejected his statement as misleading, the former premier in a rare counter-reaction rejected the NSC reaction as “wrong, painful and frightening”.Earlier, he clearly stated that he “stands by what he has said”.

In Pakistan’s political history, we have rarely confronted such a situation in the past despite differences and difference of opinion on many issues including foreign affairs between the civil and military leadership. But, this controversy demands a lot of caution from all sides as apparently it is far from over, as it can have far-reaching consequences.

Nawaz Sharif has certainly put the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) and his party’s government in a most difficult position. It is happening at a time when the PML-N leaders are busy in damage control after his (Nawaz) disqualification in Panama case and that too just before elections.

Therefore, an important question remains to be answered as to why he chose this time and what possible benefit he will get out of it, for the party and for Shahid Khaqan Abbasi government, whose tenure will end on May 31.

If the statement was to exert pressure on the establishment or judiciary, as he raised the question regarding non-completion of trial of Mumbai suspects, I doubt Sharif will get anything out of it. Internationally yes, it has caused a lot of embarrassment for the country and hurt Pakistan case.

The counter-reaction also needs to be well guarded and the NSC did the right thing by simply issuing a strong statement and putting the record straight. Nawaz Sharif, by demanding formation of a national commission perhaps wanted to keep the issue alive. Any high treason case or trial would be a big mistake.

Therefore, efforts are needed to calm down the situation. And for damage control, the government can consider a joint sitting of the Parliament including an in-camera briefing.What was most ironic is the fact that when his party, government and his own brother, who is also the president of PML-N, Shahbaz Sharif, tried to repair the damage, Nawaz caused further damage by refusing to withdraw the statement, which only added to further confusion.

Former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, who is, in the last few months, not on talking terms with Nawaz Sharif, also tried to submit a fact-sheet of the trial. He believes that had India cooperated with Pakistan in the trial, it could have been concluded much before.

The confusion within the PML-N and even at the prime minister level clearly shows that all is not well in the party. The way Prime Minister Abbasi went to see Nawaz Sharif soon after the NSC meeting and held an unusual press conference after the meeting showed where the government stand today. The PM press conference was even censored by the state-owned PTV.

The dust will not settle quickly and who knows it may result in a ‘dust-storm’ if the former premier did not stop here. The implications of his statement and his refusal to either clarify or withdraw from the position he has taken would only add to further embarrassment.

Reaction from the opposition was expected particularly at a time when Nawaz Sharif is already in trouble, disqualified as prime minister and now his trial in the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) court is about to conclude. His bombshell was well exploited by leaders like Imran Khan and others. Imran Khan and few others have even demanded treason case against Nawaz Sharif. Again such a trial would not help or do anything good for Pakistan.

There is nothing secret to the fact that in the last 35 years, scores of non-state actors and outlawed groups had emerged in Pakistan, but it is also a fact that even prior to 9/11 and afterwards Pakistan had done a lot to curb terrorism and followed the policy of not allowing anyone to use its land for terrorism. Even during the second tenure of Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan handed over few hundreds of alleged militants from Egypt to the Egyptian government and as a reaction the terrorists blew up the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad in 1995.

So, one could surely debate how much successes we have achieved in all those years and what needed to be done. Nawaz has remained Pakistan’s prime minister for three times and he knows that at least from 2008 to 2018, Pakistan has practically abolished a number of outlawed groups including al-Qaeda, Taliban and sectarian outfits in North Waziristan, South Waziristan, Swat and Karachi.

Yes, much is needed to be done as some of these groups have re-emerged with different names. We are still far from eradicating extremism and both civil and military leadership is confused over the measures to be taken for ending extremism.

But, when Sharif himself takes credit for operations like Zarb-e-Azb, Raddul Fasaad and Karachi operations, he could have stated that Pakistan did everything in the fight against terrorism and one expects from someone like him who is like an ambassador of Pakistan, played his role in asking the world to acknowledged Pakistan’s sacrifices.

It is a common practice around the world that you always discuss your shortcomings, internally and secretly, not in public. As a former prime minister of Pakistan, any statement, interview or remarks particularly on foreign policy and national security attached lot of importance and the world takes it seriously.

The position taken by Pakistan after 2008 was different from what Nawaz Sharif has taken today. Even after the attack, which Pakistan had strongly condemned, Pakistan offered complete cooperation in the investigation and as Senator Rehman Malik, interior minister from 2008 to 2013, had said, “It was Indian and RAW plan and they used Pakistan based non-state actors and that is why they did not allow our investigators to investigate Ajmal Kasab.” The alleged mastermind was hanged much before the investigation of Mumbai attack was completed.

Irrespective of what Nawaz Sharif said in his latest interview and why he said it at this time, it has not helped anyone. On the contrary, it has caused a lot of damage and no one knows how much time it will take to repair the damage.

Only Nawaz Sharif knows that at a time when even some independent surveys also showed that the PML-N was ahead of the PTI in Punjab in popularity, why he launched a drone attack on his own party and government and inflicted an injury on him.

The writer is s senior columnist and analyst of Geo, The News and Jang. Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO

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