KARACHI: In a wide-ranging conversation with journalists, leaders of the business community and foreign diplomats at a dinner on Saturday, President Arif Alvi expressed deep concern and anguish over the release of audios and videos revealing private conversations of political leaders.
He said he had made it a point to discuss with the new army chief the ‘game of audios and videos’. “I am surprised why it is going on. It should not continue in any sense of morality,” he said.
The other thing President Alvi said he discussed with the army chief was the ‘neutrality’ of the armed forces. He shared a funny anecdote of the time he was part of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) in 1990s when the party candidates had to answer the question before submission of their nomination papers whether or not they consumed liquor.
He recalled how one of the candidates agreed he did consume liquor and another said he had quit it just two days back. “I mention this anecdote to all friends of mine who wear uniform, just to tell them if you’ve left politics – you’ve left it only the day before yesterday,” he said, adding that this makes everyone laugh.
The president remarked that if the army had left politics, it was the time politicians took charge of the situation. “You [politician]) should create a situation where you don’t run to them [army],” he said.
Dr Alvi was of the view that the country was facing difficult times. He said we should let go of the past and forgive people the mistakes they had committed earlier for a new beginning. “Let’s make a country that we deserve.” He rued that institutions had not played their role, even the judiciary. The president said courts had given verdicts allowing a dictator to change the constitution. He referred to the Reko Diq case in which Pakistan had to pay a fine of $7 billion.
“If you criticise the judiciary, it will reduce the efficacy of the entire judiciary. If you criticise the army, it brings disrepute to them and you don’t want them to get disrepute,” the president said. He, however, added that this principle was often stretched and applied to every situation, due to which one could not say anything against them.
The president also remarked that it was too easy in the country to send anyone to jail. He said if a particular person was on the target, any accusation could be levelled against that person and the relevant law invoked to ensure that he was behind the bars.
About the political imbroglio in the country, he said Imran Khan believed that his opponents wanted a second National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), but when those opponents were asked about it, they denied ever asking for cases against them to be withdrawn. Dr Alvi, however, added that the incumbent federal government had indeed looked for cases against its leaders that could be withdrawn.
To a question regarding the next elections, Dr Alvi said he had verbally suggested to both the government and opposition that a middle ground might be found and elections could be held at the end of April or in May. He added that the date of the next elections was not certain and Imran should be worried whether elections were held even in October next year.
To another question regarding polarisation in Pakistan, he said the Pakistani nation had learnt through the situation in Afghanistan that we must not be polarised and we took around 30 years to realise that. He added that currently India was facing polarisation.
Speaking on Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s response to India, Dr Alvi remarked that the foreign minister had done the right thing. He said the world and the global order was based on vested interests. “A good reply was given by Bilawal sahib,” he stated.
When asked about Khan’s allegations against former army chief Gen (retd) Qamar Javed Bajwa, the president remarked that although the other side maintained that they had become neutral and they did not push people away, he believed there was some pushing away.
Dr Alvi added that during the PTI’s government, even people like Shireen Mazari had to concede they had no power when journalists were mistreated. The president went on to say that there was a lot of interference in the affairs of the National Accountability Bureau.
He said politicians’ maturity needed to match with the situation.
Journalist Mazhar Abbas asked the president whether Khan at any stage thought of sacking Gen Bajwa. To this, the president replied, “No, I don’t think so. That was a rumour.”
When Dr Alvi was asked why and when relations between Khan and Gen Bajwa soured, he replied wittingly that he was still looking for the answer, but it was probably October last year and then it was April or May this year. However, the president added that Gen Bajwa and his team had helped Khan in the Senate, and they did help the PTI during the elections also. “I am aware of that,” he remarked.
The President handled with calm and grace a number of difficult questions put to him about former Prime Minister Imran Khan and his politics of polarisation. A number of leaders of the business community expressed concern at the near-default situation the country was facing. He agreed that reform and revitalisation of the economy had to be the prime objective. To that extent and for that reason, he was even prepared to advocate “a forgive and forget” policy to start afresh for the benefit of the country.
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