Beleaguered Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has met his top ministers and aides to discuss options before the government to defuse a simmering civil-military row over a leaked report that had angered the powerful army, according to media reports on Monday.
The meeting in Lahore on Sunday followed Pakistan’s military rejecting Sharif’s move to sack his top aide and Special Assistant on Foreign Affairs Tariq Fatemi.
The military had demanded full implementation of recommendations by a committee which probed a story in the Dawn newspaper last October of a meeting at which civilian leaders confronted the military over its alleged reluctance to halt Islamist groups in the country.
In this connection, the Sharif government is considering to either formally withdraw the contentious notification or to unofficially discard it and issue a separate ‘comprehensive’ notification through the interior ministry, the Express Tribune quoted sources privy to meeting as saying.
Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister Fawad Hassan Fawad – whose signature was on the notification in question – and Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his son Hamza Shehbaz were part of the low-key consultative huddle in Lahore, the report said.
Ruling party sources close to Nawaz said Nisar was unhappy with the issuance of the notification by the Prime Minister’s Office. They said the interior minister, who was directly dealing with the Dawn Leaks issue, felt he was ‘bypassed’ by Sharif’s secretary to issue the notification.
Sharif’s aides told Nisar that the security establishment’s disappointment over the notification stemmed mainly from the fact that it was issued by Fawad, whose own role is being questioned in the Dawn leaks episode, the report said.
On Saturday, the head of the military’s media wing had tweeted the defence establishment’s disapproval of the Prime Minister’s directives, prompting Chaudhry Nisar to observe at a press conference that “institutions don’t talk to each other [over Twitter]”.
In October, a columnist for Dawn newspaper wrote a front-page story about a rift between civilian and military leaderships over militant groups that operate from Pakistan but engage in proxy war against India and Afghanistan.
“In a blunt, orchestrated and unprecedented warning, the civilian government has informed the military leadership of a growing international isolation of Pakistan and sought consensus on several key actions by the state,” the report had said.
The army took strong exception to the Dawn story. The military had called the leak of the meeting a breach of national security and urged strong, punitive action against those responsible for leaking information to the newspaper.
Pakistan’s military has always played a crucial role in the country’s politics. The army has ruled Pakistan for more than 33 years of the country’s 70-year history.
The PML-N government was forced to remove then information minister Pervaiz Rasheed but a probe was also initiated at the demand of army to fix the responsibility. The report was submitted to the prime minister last week.
According to the inquiry report, Fatemi was primarily responsible for leaking the report of the key meeting, and Sharif took action against him.
Meanwhile, the Dawn reported that Prime Minister Sharif has tasked Dar and Nisar to engage the army and allay its reservations regarding actions taken so far in the light of the recommendations of the inquiry committee, while Shahbaz Sharif has been asked to assist the duo.
The paper also noted that Nisar and Shahbaz Sharif are said to enjoy a good rapport among army circles and have met the then army chief Gen Raheel Sharif on a number of occasions to resolve differences between the civilian and military leaderships over certain issues which had cropped up previously.
However, in a message from her Twitter account, the prime minister’s daughter Maryam Nawaz denied that any such task was assigned to anyone.
“All statements being attributed to PM on media after the consultative meeting are incorrect. No one has been assigned any task by the PM,” her tweet read.
Meanwhile, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has urged the government to make public the inquiry committee’s report, calling for parliamentary debate on the matter to allay “doubts and misgivings”.
In a carefully-worded statement, PPP spokesperson Farhatullah Babar said the “unceremonious sacking” of Fatemi and Principal Information Officer Rao Tehseen Ali, as well as the “unprecedented advice” to the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) to proceed against the editor and reporter concerned had made it “absolutely necessary” that the report should immediately be made public.
Fatemi’s removal is considered a setback for Sharif who is already under pressure due to Panama case verdict.