KARACHI: Former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has described the Faizabad protest sit-in of 2017 as the “darkest chapter” in the history of Pakistan, saying that action against those responsible should be taken only if there is evidence and a complaint is filed against them.
Speaking on Geo News programme ‘Aaj Shahzeb Khanzada Kay Saath’ on Friday, the senior leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz advised the party to lodge a formal complaint against former army generals, including General Faiz Hameed, provided that the party was serious about pursuing the matter, “instead of delivering speeches and making statements against them”.
Abbasi said action could not be taken against one person or officer; rather, the entire matter surrounding the Faizabad sit-in needed to be reviewed.
“You will have to review the entire matter. Whose responsibility was it? Who did what was not supposed to be done and who did what was supposed to be done?” he said, adding that he was in complete support of a probe into the incident.
The ex-prime minister made these comments in response to a query why his party was appearing to be moving away from its stance on bringing former army chief Gen Bajwa and ex-ISI DG Gen Faiz to justice when the PTI had admitted its mistake of rejecting Justice Faez Isa’s judgment on the Faizabad sit-in and demanded that all responsible, including Gen Faiz, be held accountable.
He pointed out that the PTI ruled for three years after the Faizabad sit-in while the PML-N for 16 months, but neither of them probed the matter. “Now we have an interim government,” he said. “They can investigate it too.”
Abbasi recalled that Ahsan Iqbal and Marriyum Aurangzeb were ministers during the time when the Faizabad sit-in was staged. Iqbal was the interior minister and Aurangzeb was the information minister.
“We are ready to present ourselves [to any investigation team]. We will come and tell the facts of whatever we remember.”
He said: “It’s about facts and the law. If someone has done something, there is a complaint and a complainant against them, then there is evidence, then you have to register a case, and you have to cite the law through the inquiry that takes place. Then things move forward.”
When asked if his statement — to move on from speeches and statements and register a case — was his advice to the PML-N, the former PM stated, “Yes, absolutely they will have to do it.”
“If the party has evidence — or if I have it — it is your responsibility to present that evidence and become a complainant and file a case. Then the investigation will take place.” When Abbasi was asked about former finance minister Ishaq Dar’s statement on moving on from the matter, he said, “Perhaps leaving everything up to Allah is the way to end the matter and move on.”
“What the country needs is to set these issues aside but to also learn from them and think about the country’s future.”
The PML-N leader was of the opinion that such matters should not be discussed on television, reaffirming that if he was summoned, he would “lay before them all the facts and so will Ahsan Iqbal”.
He said it was the party and PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif’s choice to pursue the matter. “This began in the Gujranwala rally. If we want to pursue this, a formal complaint should be registered.”
Abbasi said his government had to face a lot of humiliation over the Faizabad sit-in, as then finance minister Miftah Ismail was abroad for a fundraising campaign and he used to face many questions about the situation back home.
“Roads connecting Islamabad to Pakistan remain blocked. People were unable to reach airports or travel back and forth. Even lawyers were not able to reach courts. It was chaos,” he said.
“As far as I remember, there were two separate sit-ins at Faizabad and when I was PM, it was the second sit-in. Some people converged on a bridge and we spoke to them. But talks continued,” he said.
“CCTV cameras were even disconnected. That was not possible without expertise. We had planned that we would block the supply of food to them. But a petition was filed the next day and the IG and other officials were summoned.
“We had decided to resolve the matter amicably. I am a witness to all this. The way the police launched action was laudable. I saw everything from a helicopter. Punjab police had 30,000 officers at their disposal but they did not have a single vehicle there. There were only 250 officers. I went to Lahore from there.”
The former PM said the government was paralysed that day and was not in a position to take any action.
“I saw that the capital police were not ready to take any action and paramilitary forces were not available,” he said. “We had a talk with Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and he pointed out that the army was not meant to handle such matters. They only have guns. The matter was settled somehow later but the writ of the state was affected.”
Abbasi said that later it had become a tradition to paralyse the capital of the country “for your own ulterior motives”. He said the Punjab police refrained from action fearing loss of lives.
“When Islamabad police came for action, they had come with ill intent. Demonstrators in fact had chased the capital city police away,” Abbasi said, highlighting that a court order was issued to disperse protesters by the beginning of the next week which was not the wish of the government.“When Ahsan Iqbal asked the commissioner and IG Islamabad, they said we have to take action otherwise we will face contempt,” he added.
“Then we held a meeting and decided to limit the protests. But the next day a petition was filed, and an order was issued followed by police action. I am witness to how ill-intent action was taken by the police.”
The former premier said he had asked then-minister Iqbal to not sign the agreement, warning that it would turn into a tradition later. “Then they (army and Iqbal) had a discussion [and] after he talked to me, Iqbal signed the agreement as he felt it necessary to sign it at that time. If you go deep down, the situation was quite difficult.”“There were National Security Council meetings, and it was decided in one of the meetings that then law minister Zahid Hamid’s resignation would be forwarded,” he said. “I won’t say it was at anyone’s behest. But it was said that the resignation was necessary to settle this matter. It was an unfortunate thing that we had to do. This was one of the black chapters in our history.”
Abbasi said initially, Hamid had offered him his resignation himself in a bid to diffuse the matter. “I wouldn’t say it was someone’s desire but after consultations, it was said that the resignation was necessary to finish the matter and that it won’t end before that.”
He made it clear that he did not have any knowledge of who was behind the shutting down of TV channels during the sit-in.“When channels are closed down in Pakistan, Pemra or the government isn’t behind it,” he said. “You know on whose directions they are closed.”
He added that he never took part in shutting down or for that matter the opening up of channels as well. “Marriyum Aurangzeb was the minister then; it was her job, not mine.” When asked about the PML-N’s future strategy, Abbasi said he could not defend the party’s position and only the party president would be liable to do that.
“He should give an answer. If our narrative has changed, why has it? These things are serious. If yesterday we had a narrative and today we changed it, we will have to tell the public why we drifted away from it.”
He said all the dots connected to one point which was the “theft of the 2018 elections”, concluding that the 2018 elections were the reason where the country was currently standing today.
The PML-N leader said his party’s 16-month performance would definitely have an impact on its vote. “The voter asks us questions that we don’t have answers to and definitely this will affect the elections.”
Abbasi also shed light on how retired Gen Bajwa had himself acknowledged that they (the army) had created a hybrid system. “He even said he got Imran Khan’s government the required numbers for the confidence motion and all these things are on record.”