Deep (state) trouble for Nawaz Sharif — 26/11 comments could see former PM tried for treason
'Modi ka Pakistani yaar' under fire from his own party, Imran Khan and Pakistan Army.
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Nawaz Sharif had hardly said anything new about the 26/11 Mumbai attacks — but his few words in a recent interview unleashed chaos for his party in Pakistan. His main political rival, Imran Khan, is now demanding that Pakistan try "Modi ka yaar (friend of Modi)" under the treason law. Nawaz's younger brother, and chief minister of Punjab, Shehbaz Sharif is trying to distance himself from the political narrative of his elder brother. Shehbaz Sharif even contradicted his brother’s recent interview — but big brother embarrassed him by confirming the contents of his interview again in front of the media.
A senior Urdu columnist, Abdul Qadir Hassan, declared that Nawaz Sharif was an Indian agent and wrote in The Daily Express that the former prime minister should leave Pakistan and move back to his original country, which is India. I counted this morning that at least 12 Urdu columnists of different newspapers had bullied Nawaz Sharif over his recent interview in one day.
Still roaring: Nawaz Sharif, former Pak PM who is often called 'Sher' or lion by his followers [Photo: Reuters]
What was wrong in that interview?
A few days ago, Nawaz Sharif gave an interview to the English newspaper Dawn, where he reportedly said, “Militant organisations are active. Call them non-state actors, should we allow them to cross the border and kill 150 people in Mumbai? Explain it to me. Why can’t we complete the trial?”
These few lines from a long interview became the headlines of many Indian news channels. The Indian media reported that the ousted Pakistani prime minister appeared to admit that Pakistani terrorists carried out the 2008 Mumbai attacks and suggested that such terror attacks could have been prevented.
When terror struck: Attack on the Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai on 26-11-2008. [Photo: IndiaToday.in]
Then, many Pakistani TV channels highlighted the statement coming from India’s defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman, who said that Nawaz Sharif had vindicated the stand of India on the Mumbai attacks — her statement was actually used by the Pakistani media to prove that Nawaz Sharif was speaking the language of India.
Pakistan's former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan was quick to issue a statement to contradict Nawaz Sharif. He said the trial against the suspects in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks was not completed because India never cooperated with Pakistan.
Nisar was interior minister in Nawaz Sharif’s government from 2013 to 2017. His tone about his long-time friend suddenly changed when Nawaz Sharif was disqualified by the Supreme Court last year. Nisar was ready to work under Nawaz Sharif — but he publicly refused to accept Maryam Nawaz as his leader. Maryam was trying to take over the party with the help of her father — but Nisar turned rebel.
Ajmal Kasab, one of the terrorists involved in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. [Photo: Indiatoday.in]
Nawaz Sharif lost his government in 2017 — but he did not lose his popularity. He was not defensive but aggressive. He attacked both the army and judiciary during his famous GT Road March, and attracted huge crowds in different cities of central Punjab. Nawaz Sharif tried to make an alliance with the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) led by the former President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari — it was Zardari who had saved Nawaz’s government in 2014, when Imran Khan staged a sit-in for more than 120 days in front of Parliament with the hidden support of General Raheel Sharif.
There were two main objectives behind using Imran Khan against Nawaz Sharif then.
Trying to bowl out Nawaz? PTI politician Imran Khan is targetting former Pak PM. [Photo: Reuters]
General Raheel Sharif wanted to save former dictator Pervez Musharraf from a treason trial ordered by the Supreme Court. Secondly, he wanted to become Field Marshal with three years extension in his service. Nawaz Sharif allowed Musharraf to run away from the treason trial, but refused to give the extension to Raheel Sharif. He appointed General Qamar Javed Bajwa as the new army chief and thought he was safe now — but unfortunately the Panama Papers scandal got him.
Nawaz Sharif mishandled the Panama case.
Instead of dealing with it politically, he took it to the Supreme Court himself. The Supreme Court disqualified him — and he came onto the roads for public support.
But this time, Zardari refused to stand with Nawaz Sharif because he felt betrayed in 2015, when he gave a statement against the-then army chief General Raheel Sharif, and Nawaz Sharif abandoned him. After no cooperation from Zardari, Nawaz Sharif tried to make a deal with the military establishment through his old friends in Saudi Arabia, who had also played an important role in his deal with Musharraf in 2000. However, this time, the Saudis were also angry with Nawaz Sharif. The Saudis wanted the Pakistan Army to fight against Yemen — Nawaz Sharif only gave them the services of General Raheel Sharif, but did not provide army troops.
Does he have reason to smile? Nawaz Sharif's old foe and former Pak army chief Pervez Musharraf. [Photo: Reuters]
A few months ago, Nawaz Sharif had stopped criticising the army and only targeted the Supreme Court — but this strategy backfired. The army stood behind the Supreme Court and refused to make any backdoor deals with Nawaz Sharif. Nawaz Sharif again started criticising the army, using phrases such as “unseen forces”. Many around Nawaz tried to advise him that he should not confront the army directly and wait for elections instead; once his party would get a majority in Parliament, they could revert the laws through which he was disqualified.
But Nawaz Sharif never listened to the doves within his party. He decided to pressurise the army by speaking about 26/11. His main objective was to get international support. He said nothing new about the Mumbai attacks — but perhaps his timing or selection of words was wrong.
Now, his opponents like Imran Khan are bashing him, asking why Nawaz spoke about Ajmal Kasab and never spoke about Kulbhushan Jadhav, who was allegedly sent by India to organize terrorism in Pakistan. The government of his own party came under major pressure to condemn his statement. An emergency meeting of the National Security Committee (NSC) was called, chaired by PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. This meeting clearly condemned the statement made by Nawaz Sharif.
After the meeting, PM Abbasi was apparently summoned by his leader Nawaz Sharif. PM Abbasi was reportedly told pointblank by Nawaz Sharif that he will reject the NSC statement.
On the horns of a dilemma: Pak PM Shahid Abbasi. [Photo: Reuters]
The PM was left confused. He never wanted to give an impression that he was backstabbing his leader in difficult circumstances. He called an emergency press conference in PM House and claimed Nawaz Sharif was misquoted by Dawn. He tried to save his leader by throwing the blame onto the newspaper — but Nawaz Sharif never contradicted his interview. That's further complicated the situation — now, it is not the army but the prime minister who is embarrassed and the whole PML-N is really in trouble.
The Provincial Assemblies of Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have adopted resolutions against Nawaz Sharif — many petitions have been filed in many courts to try Nawaz Sharif for treason.
I can differ with Nawaz Sharif on many issues — but I can’t support a treason trial against him.
Treason allegations against political opponents are an old tradition. Military dictator General Ayub Khan declared Fatima Jinnah (the sister of Muhammad Ali Jinnah) a traitor and an Indian agent when she contested the Presidential election against him in 1965. Sheikh Mujibur Rehman (father of Hasina Wajid) supported Fatima Jinnah — so he was also declared a traitor.
Has he taken a stand? Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa. [Photo: Reuters]
These treason allegations never did any good to Pakistan — such allegations even changed the geography of Pakistan in 1971.
In fact, first of all, the treason trial of former dictator Pervez Musharraf should be completed — only then should our “patriots” think about others. If we can’t complete the trial against Musharraf, who is an absconder, then we should stop blaming a three-time prime minister for allegedly committing treason. Musharraf abrogated the Constitution twice. Nawaz Sharif never abrogated the Constitution once.
We should now move on smoothly to the coming elections. Nawaz Sharif may go behind bars in corruption cases soon. He is trying to give an impression that he will go to jail not for corruption but due to his political stand against the military establishment. He may not address big rallies after a few weeks — but "Nawaz, the traitor" will be a subject of the election rallies of Imran Khan and Asif Zardari.
Imran is sure that he will become the next PM of Pakistan and he is committed to having Nawaz Sharif tried for treason — but I think this will be a blunder.
Instead of wasting time on treason trials, the next government must take measures to complete the Mumbai trial as soon as possible and stop the cross-border movement of both Ajmal Kasabs and Kulbhushan Jadhavs who created hatred between Pakistan and India.