Pakistan’s opposition leaders’ meeting with the army chief ahead of their grand alliance formation has led to doubts and accusations within the group.
This comes within days of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s hard-hitting speech challenging the army leadership’s interference in Pakistan’s politics. The grand opposition alliance that is created to unseat the Imran Khan government seems to be cracking from within.
The government was unable to counter much of the allegations leveled by Nawaz Sharif. But it was the army that sprung into action with a series of media leaks and statements. This created rifts in the political alliance and in Sharif’s own party PML-N. Due to the rift Sharif’s brother Shahbaz Sharif, who is also party president, is on a collision course with Sherif’s daughter Maryam Nawaz, who is party vice president and also Sharif’ss political heir.
The Rift Within Pakistan’s Opposition Alliance
The first statement after the former PM’s speech to a meeting of the alliance came the very next day from the army chief, Gen Qamar Bajwa. Meeting selected parliamentarians, Bajwa said Pakistani military does not have a say in matters related to politics.
Bajwa further added that the military did not play any part in the recently passed FATF-linked legislations. Or in the workings of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and the political proposals for Gilgit Baltistan (GB).
Bajwa is insisting that political leadership is responsible for all these matters and that GB has strategic importance. Due to this broad-based consultation was necessary. The government is responsible for withholding elections and declaring province status for GB Both are opposed by India which considers it a region within Jammu and Kashmir that is illegally occupied by Pakistan.
The Secret Meeting between The Army and Opposition Party Leaders
While this debate between the army and the political leaders was gaining momentum, it was leaked to the media that key opposition party leaders had met with Gen Bajwa and the head of the ISI Lt General Faiz. The meeting was held days ahead of the All Parties Conference of the alliance.
Railway Minister Shaikh Rasheed, who seems to be close to the military, who leaked the news has taunted the opposition for criticizing the army on one hand and meeting with it on the other.
The people who attended the meeting were Shahbaz Sharif, along with his party colleagues Khawaja Asif and Ahsan Iqbal. They attended on behalf of the PML-N. From the PPP party chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and senator Sherry Rehman were present.
The Clarification from Pakistan’s Opposition Alliance about the Meeting
The leak of the meeting has embarrassed most of those who attended. Shahbaz Sharif has just confirmed the meeting and has refused to comment. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari clarified that they had attended a briefing on national security. And such briefings are normally a secret for security purposes.
Bhutto, in a hurriedly called press conference, justified the meeting with the military. He said that Prime Minister Imran Khan had failed to engage with the opposition on national security issues during his tenure. This has led to the worsening of relations with India following the Pulwama attack. He also said that there was also a discussion of the issue of Gilgit Baltistan at the meeting with the military.
Soon after the media release, Maryam Nawaz Sharif criticized her allies and her uncle and party president Shahbaz Sharif.
In her statement to the media, she said the opposition was called to the military headquarters for the issue of Gilgit Baltistan. As this is a political issue the people’s representatives should settle this. These discussions issues should be in the parliament, not in the military headquarters in secret.
Reacting to Maryam’s statement, Rasheed further disclosed that the leaders held two meetings in the last two months with the military leadership.
Pakistan Army’s Statement About the secret Meeting
The military retaliated to Maryam’s statement within hours. In response to her claim of Sharif not being present in the meeting with the army, the head of the Pakistan Army’s media wing disclose that senior PML-N leader Mohammad Zubair held two meetings with General Bajwa in recent weeks about the former prime minister and his daughter.
Babar Iftikhar told a news channel recently that both the meetings were on request by Zubair, a former Sindh governor. In both the meetings, Zubair talked about Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz. He further added that the army chief made it clear to Zubair that whatever their legal issues are, will be solved in Pakistan’s courts. And the political issues in the parliament.
He further said that as a friend, he thought he should brief Bajwa on the economy of Pakistan. And also on the issues of governance. But he told him clearly that he had not come to seek relief for anyone in the party. Neither had he come on the request of anyone.
It is clear that the issue of military interference in the country’s political landscape will continue to be debated. It has also shaken the government of Imran Khan. He is also facing accusations for coming to power by a rigged election.