Not with a bang but a whimper
Though Nawaz Sharif’s recent anti-army speech has been hailed as a significant turning point for Pakistani politics, it is ultimately the Pakistan Army that has the last laugh
A fiery speech by Nawaz Sharif, former Pakistani Prime Minister and Pakistan Muslim League (N) supremo, during the All Parties Conference on September 21 was hailed a watershed moment in Pakistani politics.
Speaking from London, Sharif for the first time took the military establishment head-on, calling it the "state above the state". Sharif made it clear that his fight was not against the Imran Khan Government but against the 'people' who have propped up this Government. People called it a fight to finish speech and said that Sharif has burnt all his boats and slammed the door of any hope of reconciliation with the army. But what intrigued and surprised the political observers was that why the military which virtually controls the TV channels allowed them to telecast Sharif's anti-army speech live?
Before the political analysts could decipher the political ramifications of this 'explosive' speech, the military establishment punctured what was seen as a trial balloon of rebellion against the army by making public behind the closed-door meetings that the PML (N) leaders were having with the army chief.
First, through selective leaks and then Major General Babar Iftikhar, Director General of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), confirmed that senior PML-N leader Mohammad Zubair held two meetings with the Chief of the Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa in recent weeks about Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz. General Iftikhar said two meetings took in the last week of August and on September 7. General Iftikhar said: "During these meetings, whatever was
discussed, the army chief made it clear to him (Zubair) that whatever their (Nawaz and Maryam's) legal issues are will be solved in Pakistan's courts, while the political issues will be solved in the Parliament."
Although Zubair issued numerous clarifications saying it was a personal visit to a friend of 40 years and he did not seek any relief for Sharif and his daughter, the damage was done.
It also emerged that before Zubair's meeting, opposition leaders which included Bilawal Zardari Bhutto and senior leaders of PML (N) met army chief Bajwa twice. The meeting was called purportedly to discuss the issue of making Gilgit-Baltistan a full-fledged province. During the meeting, the opposition leaders conveyed their grievances against the Imran Khan Government, but General Bajwa bluntly told them not drag the army into politics and the Imran Khan Government will be allowed to complete its term.
This message coming out from the GHQ in Rawalpindi has sent Pakistan's Peoples' Party (PPP) and PML (N) leaders scurrying for cover. Senior political analyst Rauf Klasra says this is the bane of Pakistani politics. "In public PPP and PML (N) leaders talk of civilian supremacy but through the back door, they seek personal favours from the army," he said.
Klasra says the issue of Gilgit-Baltistan is a political issue and this should have been discussed in the National Assembly (parliament), not at GHQ. Even if there were some security concerns, General Bajwa and ISI chief should have come to Parliament and brief a select committee.
The Pakistani military, by making public what were supposed to be 'secret' or 'off-the-book' meetings, has taken the wind out of the sails of the Sharif narrative. With his party in disarray, the same PML (N) leaders, who used to blame the army for their political woes, are finding it difficult to defend their back-door meetings with the army chief.
The entire controversy has created an impression that the bellicose posturing is just for public consumption and when it comes to personal interest, politicians of all hues queue up at GHQ.
Sharif, himself a protégé of the army, before making anti-army speech should have known that when it comes to politics in Pakistan, it is the military establishment, which has all the aces up its sleeve.
The writer has worked on senior editorial positions for many renowned international publications. Views expressed are personal