ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s scandalous statement has pushed the PML-N in complete disarray at a time when the general elections are just round the corner.
Generally considered as endorsement of Indian stance and negation of Pakistan’s policy on the issue of Mumbai attacks, the statement is being clarified and even denied to some degree by top leaders of the PML-N, including Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif. However, Nawaz Sharif not only owns the statement, but also insists that he did not say anything wrong.
Like others, many in the ruling party agree that Nawaz Sharif’s statement is damaging for Pakistan. But so far no one, including even Shahbaz Sharif, could succeed to convince him to distance from what was attributed to him.
Politically, the PML-N leaders and their MPs know the party is fast losing its popularity but no one has any clear idea how to stop all this, as Nawaz Sharif is going ahead with what, independent observers believe, is nothing less than a suicide mission.
According to the PML-N sources, Punjab chief minister was amongst those who met Nawaz Sharif soon after his contentious statement and register his strong protest. Shahbaz Sharif even asked Nawaz Sharif why he gave interview to the same reporter who had caused huge embarrassment to the N-government as well as to the country on the issue of DawnLeaks.
These sources said Shahbaz genuinely feels that Nawaz Sharif should not have said what was attributed to him because the CM too believes it has hurt Pakistan. Shahbaz Sharif’s initial statement on the issue was aimed at: firstly, distancing the PML-N from the thought conveyed by NS’s interview on Mumbai attack issue; and secondly, making an effort to save Nawaz Sharif by issuing a subtle rebuttal of the interview as published.
According to Shahbaz the news report had "incorrectly attributed certain remarks to the PML-N Quaid Nawaz Sharif, which do not represent the PML-N’s policy." However, initially the same day Maryam Nawaz not only owned the interview, but also endorsed what was attributed to Nawaz Sharif causing huge reaction- jubilations in India and extreme criticism in Pakistan.
The next morning, Nawaz Sharif while talking to media persons outside the Accountability Court in Islamabad not only owned what was attributed to him in the interview, but also read out its contentious parts and asked the media what wrong he said.
The same day- on Monday- the National Security Council met to conclude: "The participants observed that it was very unfortunate that the opinion arising out of either misconceptions or grievances was being presented in disregard of concrete facts and realities. The participants unanimously rejected the allegations and condemned the fallacious assertions."
The NSC statement did not name Nawaz while addressing the controversy around the 'misleading' comments about Mumbai attack. Soon after the NSC meeting, the PM met NS and, according to sources, he also asked for issuance of a clarification and distancing from how Nawaz was quoted by the newspaper. Later, the PM had to rebut the contents of the interview, initially in a press conference on Monday evening and later in the National Assembly on Tuesday.
Abbasi clarified that the NSC had in fact condemned “misreporting” and not his party’s supreme leader’s statement. He said NS’s comments were "misreported" and "misinterpreted". Speaking in the house on Tuesday, PM Abbasi said: "Whatever was said during that interview and whatever was written by the reporter was misinterpreted by the Indian media in order to serve India's own purposes."
But, interestingly, Nawaz Sharif again spoke to reporters outside the Accountability Court in Islamabad on Tuesday morning and avoided clarifying or rebutting how he was attributed in the interview. Instead Nawaz rejected the NSC statement, terming it "painful and regrettable", and saying it was "not based on facts".
He stuck to his stance on the remarks made by him i.e. "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?"
Interestingly, the PM though spoke in favour of his party leader, he did not reject the NSC’s statement. Finding himself in a difficult situation, Shahid Abbasi stated that the NSC had “condemned the misreporting”, especially Sharif’s wrongly attributed remarks about the non-state actors.
These are also the testing times for the PML-N second tier leadership, particularly its MPs who are preparing for the upcoming general elections. Till recently, they were confident despite repeated political challenges faced by the party during the recent months but now they are confused and under pressure. They know what Nawaz Sharif has said is neither defendable nor saleable.
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