In explosive speech, PMLN supreme leader Nawaz Sharif hits out at military’s influence in governance
Slamming the Imran Khan-led government for “destroying” Pakistan’s economy, damaging international relations, and muzzling media, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif on Sunday delivered an explosive speech to mark his comeback to politics.
Addressing the opposition’s all-parties conference via videolink from London, the supreme leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) said that even though he was not personally in the country, he was very aware of the conditions it had been brought to by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf.
“I perceive this conference as a turning point for the country where we can make major decisions with bravery,” he said, adding that any other result would only serve to disappoint the public.
“Our democratic system operates on listening to the opinions of the people; democratic systems around the world follow the same principle. When public votes are not respected and the verdict is decided even before the elections, then we can guess how the people of this country are deceived and dodged,” he said, referring to longstanding allegations of electoral rigging in the 2018 general elections. “Unfortunately, Pakistan has been the laboratory for such experiments. It’s not even taken into account that the democratic structure of the country is demolished due to such tactics and the public loses faith in the system,” he added.
Noting that no prime minister in Pakistan’s history had managed to complete a full five-year tenure, he questioned how dictators were always allowed to bow out at a time of their own choosing. “The people who follow the laws are put in jail; it is nothing new that dictators are always set free and not held accountable for whatever they do,” he said in a clear reference to former military ruler Pervez Musharraf who is currently based out of the U.A.E.
Referring to a statement of former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani about a “state within the state,” the PMLN founder said the “root cause” of Pakistan’s problems was actually a “state above the state.” He said this “parallel government” hijacked the electoral process and denied people their mandate. “This is a violation of the Constitution. Has anyone given a thought to what a grave crime it is to steal the people’s mandate?” he said as he also questioned why polling agents had been turned out of stations during the 2018 polls and why the results transmission system was shut down for hours. He said everyone involved in stealing people’s mandate must be brought to justice.
Pakistan’s economy has been destroyed by the PTI, said Sharif, noting economic growth had cratered and was now below that of even war-torn Afghanistan. “The inflation we had brought under control has now reached new heights,” he said, adding that bills were akin to “bombs” on the public.
This government had promised 10,000,000 jobs but rather has seen 12,000,000 be wiped out during its two years, said Sharif, adding it was a government of “u-turns.” The former prime minister said that the people’s vote is not respected, the country will continue to economically suffer. “Such countries aren’t even capable of their own defense,” he warned, adding that this was especially important when enemies were taking aim.
Sharif also discussed several high-profile incidents of the PTI’s tenure, including the Lahore motorway gang-rape, in which he slammed the government for defending CCPO Umar Sheikh. He said Pakistan’s population was the sixth largest in the world and its lawmakers should formulate its foreign policy. “Our foreign policy must be in our best interest, but we have to face FATF and other issues [because of those who control the foreign policy],” he said.
The former prime minister also slammed India’s abrogation of Kashmir’s special constitutional status, saying no one had dared to do this during the tenure of any other government. “We couldn’t even protest this [effectively],” he said, questioning why even allied nations hadn’t backed Pakistan’s stance.
“The time has come to ask for the answers to all these questions,” said Sharif, adding former leaders are aware how civilian governments are brought under pressure through “operations” that the prime minister and president are not even aware of. He referred to the ‘Dawn leaks’ incident as evidence of institutional pressure, and also cited ISPR spokesman Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor’s “rejection” of JIT report that cleared Sharif of any wrongdoing.
Accepting that it was his government’s mistake to not dissolve the National Accountability Bureau, a body set up by a military dictator, Sharif said he did not believe it would ever be so misused. He said Pakistan’s legal bodies had already spoken out against NAB and it had lost all credibility.
Referring to the Senate elections of two years ago, Sharif said a plot had been hatched to topple Balochistan’s government, alleging Adviser to the P.M. on Information Asim Bajwa had played a role in it while serving as Corps Commander Southern Command. He also questioned the finances of the former military commander’s family, referring to the BajCo scandal.
“Imran Khan talks about accountability but he didn’t even ask for his [Bajwa’s] assets,” he said, claiming a mere statement was enough to satisfy the premier.
“People sitting in government have planned to increase prices of wheat, sugar and medicine,” alleged Sharif, and also questioned why the foreign funding case, Khan’s Bani Gala residence and his sister Aleema Khan’s foreign assets had not been examined by any legal authority. This lack of accountability does not happen in the Riyasat-e-Madina, he added.
“Is this the kind of Pakistan we want to leave for our future generations,” said Sharif, and condemned the government’s excesses against fundamental rights. “A free media is the right of the people,” he said and condemned the illegal abductions and harassment of journalists.
He said the state was adopting “divide and conquer” policies to pressure media, judiciary, lawyers and doctors. “We have to decide that we one today and will never separate in the national interest,” he said, adding that if this were achieved the APC could be deemed a success.
“This conference should bring forth a concrete plan of action to protect democracy. We need a concrete policy to solve the problem of a ‘parallel state,’” he said. Sharif said the Hamoodur Rahman Commission, which was a judicial inquiry that assessed Pakistan’s political–military involvement in East-Pakistan from 1947 to 1971, should be made public.
“Our foremost priority should be removing this selected government and this system. Our battle is not against Imran Khan; our battle is against those who imposed Imran Khan on us and who manipulated elections to bring an inefficient man like him into power and thus destroyed the country,” he said.
“If change is not brought, it will bring irreversible loss to this country. It is very important that our armed forces stay away from our governmental system according to our Constitution and the Quaid’s speech, and not interfere with the people’s choice. We have made this country a joke in our own eyes and internationally as well,” he said, reiterating his advice for the APC to shun traditional forms of protest and evolve a true plan of action.
Sharif’s speech garnered mostly positive responses on social media, with critics and supporters alike praising his “bluntness.” Journalist Hasan Zaidi posted on Twitter it had the “cogency and gravitas expected of this APC,” while New York Times correspondent Salman Masood said speeches by other politicians had “paled in comparison.”
Journalist Nasim Zehra also said that after Sharif’s speech, “who will say PMLN or Nawaz Sharif are looking for an NRO or a deal?” and anchor Kamran Yousaf said: “You may be supporter or hater of Nawaz Sharif, his today’s speech will go down in history as one of the candid and bold postmortem of Pakistan’s chronic problems.” Activist Shama Junejo also praised Sharif, claiming it was “his best ever speech after 1993.”
Meanwhile, PTI supporters and allied lawmakers slammed the speech, claiming it proved Sharif was not in poor health and he needed to return to Pakistan to complete his jail term. They also questioned how media could be under pressure from the government when it had been allowed to broadcast the address of a “convicted criminal.”