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October 18, 2020

Inter-institution dialogue is the only way forward

Top Story

October 18, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Two days before Friday’s Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) Gujranwala public meeting, a PML-N leader from London had told The News that the establishment had conveyed to the government that it would stay neutral as far as the opposition’s protest campaign is concerned. It was also said that Mian Nawaz Sharif would make a hard-hitting speech on the occasion. On Friday night, Nawaz made a speech that was perhaps more than hard-hitting. In his address, he directly targeted the army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and held him responsible for his (Nawaz’s) disqualification and the ‘manipulated’ 2018 elections that brought Imran Khan to power. His direct attack on the army chief raised the awkward question of PML-N’s support not so long ago to the army chief’s three-year extension. The N-League didn’t merely vote for Bajwa’s extension but contributed fully in making a law that has paved the legal way for similar future extensions. If General Bajwa had ‘conspired’ to remove Nawaz Sharif and if he was the man who had also ‘rigged’ the elections, why did the PML-N chief allow his party to vote for an extension for the same person?

The extension law, made with the whole-hearted support of Nawaz’s party, was considered by some even within the PML-N as a huge compromise, which was impossible without the tacit approval of the former prime minister. He remained silent during the entire move and Maryam Nawaz too was tight-lipped when the PML-N took a huge u-turn.

Meanwhile, senior PML-N leaders including Shahbaz Sharif, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Khawaja Asif, Ahsan Iqbal, Ayaz Sadiq, Muhammad Zubair, Rana Tanveer Hussain, Miftah Ismail and others have been talking and meeting with the top figures of the military establishment and Mian Sahib was well aware of these meetings.

Even more recently, after Nawaz Sharif’s direction to his party leaders not to meet the top military leadership, a Sharif family member reportedly contacted the establishment for a meeting of PML-N leaders with Shahbaz Sharif, who is presently in the custody of NAB. Some senior PML-N leaders had also contacted one of the top establishment bosses for the same reason.

An informed source, who has close connections with the military establishment, indicated that the establishment is now thinking of extricating itself from political affairs. This fact was confirmed by the PML-N leader, who while talking to this correspondent from London a few days ago, said that the military establishment had told the government that it would stay away from what the opposition alliance was doing.

There is no doubt that what the PMLN leader had told The News, would also be known to Nawaz Sharif, who nevertheless opted to declare an all-out war against the army chief.

It is not clear who the ultimate target of Nawaz Sharif is -- Prime Minister Imran Khan or the COAS General Bajwa, or both of them. It is extremely difficult if not impossible to judge and no one but Nawaz would have an answer to this question.

Former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has been the advocate of a dialogue between all stakeholders to stop repeating past mistakes yet again.

Instead of pushing the country towards further confrontation, there is a dire need today for an inter-institution dialogue.

Interestingly, an inter-institution dialogue has been demanded by some key political leaders as well as a former chief justice of Pakistan but no such dialogue has ever taken place.

Senator Raza Rabbani during his stint as Chairman Senate had made a serious effort to initiate such a dialogue but he did not have the support of Asif Ali Zardari. As Chairman Senate, Rabbani had separately invited the then chief justice of Pakistan and the incumbent army chief to attend the Committee of the Whole of the Senate.

Later, Justice Khosa had proposed that the president of Pakistan should hold an inter-institution dialogue at the summit level to take stock of mistakes committed in the past and come up with a Charter of Governance so as to ensure that such mistakes are not repeated in future.

Khosa had proposed: "Such a summit may be attended by the top parliamentary leadership, top judicial leadership and top executive leadership including the military and the intelligence agencies.” He had stated that after bringing all such major stakeholders in national governance on one table under the patronage of the president of Pakistan, an effort should be made through such a proposed exercise to heal the wounds of the past, attend to the sore points and work out a practicable policy framework under which every organ and institution of the State exercises its powers and performs its functions within its constitutionally defined limits.

"Let us discuss with open minds where the judiciary, the executive and the legislature have gone wrong in the past. Let us discuss where each other's domain has been encroached upon in the past and try to resolve such issues through a mutually agreed course of action,” Khosa had suggested.

Unfortunately, he retired without pursuing this noble idea and we now find ourselves in a far worse situation than before.

Of late, former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and ex-secretary defence retired General Khalid Lodhi have also been demanding the same.

Abbasi in repeated statements has underlined that the only way forward for Pakistan is an inter-institution dialogue so that every institution works in its own sphere and constitutional rule in the country is ensured.

Retired General Lodhi in a television interview recently stated that all institutions, including the defence forces, judiciary, media, political parties etc, have become controversial. General Lodhi said that all these institutions have locked horns with each other, and in such circumstances Pakistan cannot move forward. He strongly advocated the initiation of a dialogue between all players to get contentious issues settled.

Many have come to believe that it is high time for an inter-institution summit to avert possibly endangering the system and hurting the country in view of the rising post-APC tensions between the opposition parties and institutions.

Unfortunately, what NAB is currently doing is fueling the fire. Similarly, the constant government-opposition political bickering and point-scoring can only further worsen the situation.

Letting matters continue along their present course will clearly not serve the cause of any institution, individual, government or political party, whether sitting on the treasury benches or in the opposition.

As a source commented, “Dialogue is the only way forward and for that, President Arif Alvi is in the best position to act. Prime Minister Imran Khan should support him because it will benefit his government the most.”