LAHORE - Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s decision to call a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on National Security for Thursday (today) immediately after his talks with a PPP delegation led by former president Asif Ali Zardari is very significant.
The delegation met the premier at the latter’s own request, and after exchanging views on a number of subjects assured Mr Sharif of the PPP’s fullest support in case of any threat to the democratic system.
The direct interaction between the civil and the military leadership today and the decisions to be taken at their meeting will enable the khakis to understand if the prime minister is willing to address their reservations on various issues. And harmony, or lack of it, will widen or bridge the gulf between the two sides.
The ‘threat’ to system has been the subject of discussions in the media for quite some days, which belies Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan’s claim made only a few days ago that civil-military relations at present were better than they had ever been.
He was quoted as saying: “Yes, there was an irritant, but we shall get over it since it is the need of the hour… civil-military relations have never been as they are today… the relationship is frank and honest to a degree I’ve never witnessed in my 30-year political career”.
The point is if the civil-military relationship is ‘better’ as being claimed by a minister who is so close to the head of government, there is no reason for any threat to the system or any justification for the PPP and the PML-N leaders to discuss the threat issue. Also, there was no need for this meeting only a day before the prime minister is scheduled to be with the very people who pose the ‘threat’. And if there is no immediate threat to the system, the Sharif-Zardari meeting could have been delayed by a few days.
(On Saturday, Mr Sharif is scheduled to be the chief guest at the army’s passing out parade at Kakul Academy which will provide the civil and military leadership another opportunity to exchange views on different subjects).
It appears that by his meeting with the PPP leadership the prime minister has tried to strengthen his political position before sharing table with the services chiefs today.
Circumstantial evidence shows that all is not well on the political front. The impression was strengthened also by a communiqué issued at the conclusion of the speakers’ conference in the federal capital on Tuesday.
The conference concluded with the pledge by all participants that they would not become part of any unconstitutional act or move to derail the democratic order (something which was not supposed to be part of agenda).
Speaker Ayaz Sadiq said that for the promotion of democratic order it was imperative to promote the culture of respecting each others’ mandate and stand united against any move aimed at causing damage to the democracy.
The same day former president Zardari’s spokesman delivered an important speech in the Senate.
Expressing concern over the ongoing civil-military tiff, Senator Farhatullah Babar said his party would support the PML-N government against any ‘undemocratic adventurism’.
It is premature to say how the military leadership would take such statements and meetings. But one thing is clear: Such statements portray the defenders of Pakistan as suspects in the eyes for the political leadership.
Before assessing his political strength after getting assurances from a man who otherwise is his arch rival, the prime minister must bear in mind that Mr Zardari’s record of keeping commitments is not very enviable. People still remember Mr Zardari’s famous saying that commitments are not like Quran and Hadith which cannot be deviated from.
Thus, anyone who trusts the PPP leader despite such views will be doing so at his own risk.
For starters, the PPP had won the 2008 elections and the PML-N was mounting pressure on it to restore the superior court judges sacked by Gen Musharraf through his November 2007 emergency proclamation (he is being tried for at present). Mr Sharif was assured that the judges would be back in their seats within weeks. It was after such an assurance that the PML-N agreed to join the PPP-led coalition and its ministers took oath from Gen Musharraf, the man now being labeled as a traitor.
When the leadership realised that Mr Zardari was not serious in restoring the judges, the PML-N ministers quit the coalition after 40 days. (However, the PPP ministers who had joined the PML-N setup in Punjab clung to power for some three years despite being repeatedly told by Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to quit. Hats off to such ‘principled’ leaders of the two parties.
As things stand, the Wednesday meeting is more in the PPP’s interest than the government’s.
Now, it would become increasingly difficult for Mr Sharif to honour his pre-election commitment to the nation that after getting elected he would bring back to Pakistan the ill-gotten $60million Mr Zardari has in Swiss banks.
The PML-N has been in power for 10 months now but not even slightest progress has been seen on this front. And after offers of cooperation in ‘difficult times’ it will not be possible for the prime minister to proceed against such ‘benefactors’. A number of PPP ministers facing serious corruption cases will also be benefited by the newfound love between the two parties. The government will not prosecute the accused PPP leaders as strongly as it should. And the friendly prosecution will help the accused get acquitted.
Such a situation many cause serious embarrassment to the Punjab chief minister who has consistently been branding Mr Zardari as Ali Baba on account of his alleged corrupt practices.