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Cracks in oppn alliance, with help from army

While this debate was gathering momentum, it was leaked that key opposition leaders had met Bajwa and ISI chief Lt Gen Faiz Hameed days ahead of the all-party conference. Railways minister Sheikh Rasheed, seen to be close to the military, disclosed this and taunted the opposition for criticising the army and meeting with it at the same time.

Updated: Sep 25, 2020, 02:24 IST

By Imtiaz Ahmad, Hindustan Times Islamabad

While the army seems to have won the latest round, it is clear the issue of military interference in politics will continue to be debated. (AFP)

Within days of former premier Nawaz Sharif’s hard-hitting speech challenging the army’s interference in Pakistan’s politics, a grand opposition alliance created to unseat the Imran Khan government appears to be crumbling. Not surprisingly, this comes with a little nudge from the military.

While the government was unable to counter most allegations levelled by Sharif, it was the army that sprang into action with leaks and statements that created rifts in not only the opposition alliance but in Sharif’s own PML-N party, pitting his brother Shahbaz Sharif on a collision course with his daughter and political heir Maryam Nawaz.

The first statement after the speech came the next day from army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa, who told a select group of parliamentarians the military didn’t have a role in politics. He said the military didn’t play any part in recently passed Financial Action Task Force (FATF)-related legislation, working of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), and political proposals for Gilgit Baltistan (GB). Insisting that the political leadership was responsible for these matters, Bajwa conceded broad-based consultation was necessary on GB because of its strategic importance.

While this debate was gathering momentum, it was leaked that key opposition leaders had met Bajwa and ISI chief Lt Gen Faiz Hameed days ahead of the all-party conference. Railways minister Sheikh Rasheed, seen to be close to the military, disclosed this and taunted the opposition for criticising the army and meeting with it at the same time.



This leak embarrassed most of those who attended. Shahbaz Sharif confirmed the meeting while Bilawal clarified they attended a briefing on national security, a matter that is usually kept secret.

In a hurriedly called press meet, Bilawal justified the meeting because PM Imran Khan had failed to engage with the opposition on national security issues during his tenure, such as worsening ties with India following the Pulwama attack. He said GB was discussed at the meeting.

Soon after, Maryam Nawaz criticised her allies and took a potshot at her uncle and party president Shahbaz Sharif for meeting the military. She told the media on Wednesday, “They (opposition leaders) were called [to the GHQ] on the issue of Gilgit-Baltistan. This is a political issue that should be settled by the people’s representatives... These issues should be decided in Parliament, not in the GHQ.”

Railways minister Rasheed then disclosed that the PML-N leadership had held not one but two meetings with the military leadership in the past two months. But Maryam’s statement appeared to have upset the military, with the head of its media wing, Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar, disclosing that senior PML-N leader Mohammad Zubair held two meetings with Gen Bajwa in recent weeks to discuss the issue of Nawaz Sharif and his daughter. Iftikhar said both meetings were “requested” by Zubair, who “talked about Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz”. He added, “The army chief made it clear to [Zubair] that whatever their legal issues are, they will be solved in Pakistan’s courts, while political issues will be solved in parliament.”

While the army seems to have won the latest round, it is clear the issue of military interference in politics will continue to be debated. It has also shaken the Khan government, which is being accused of coming to power through a rigged election. Analyst Kamran Yousaf said the days of the government may soon be over and another set-up cobbled with consensus could take charge. But others disagree.

Most analysts say Nawaz Sharif’s speech stirred a hornet’s nest, and his contention that the army is a “state above a state” will echo in the corridors of power.

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