Civil-military leaders agreed on need for turning a new page in top-level huddle: Asif

Meeting between the senior military command and parliamentary leaders had seemingly ended on a positive note

Web Desk

With speculation still rife about what transpired in a top-level meeting last week between the military and civilian leaderships, PML-N leader Khawaja Asif, appearing on Geo News programme ‘Aaj Shahzeb Khanzada Kay Sath’, on Tuesday made several interesting revelations about what was discussed.

Dismissing the notion at the outset that the meeting had been called to discuss the political environment, Asif explained that the leaders of all political parties which have a presence in the National Assembly and Senate had been invited to discuss Gilgit-Baltistan's future with the army chief.

"There was absolutely no conversation on NAB. I can say this with authority. Whoever reported this to the media is absolutely wrong," he said.

He said the conversation had strayed from the main agenda (Gilgit-Baltistan) after Senator Sherry Rehman of the PPP complained that the prime minister was not present for the meeting.

Read more: In meeting last week, military leadership had asked that army not be dragged into political disputes 

"That's when the conversation turned towards why the army has to interfere in political matters; basically because politicians concede that space — that's where it went," Asif recalled. 

"After [that conversation], the prime minister's absence [from the meeting] becomes a sort of testament that if the prime minister had been there and if he had taken charge of the situation then the army chief or the military would not have had to invite the parliamentary leaders to discuss the issue [of Gilgit Baltistan] and it could have been discussed somewhere within one of the parliamentary rooms," Asif said. 

"I have already explained that there was no conversation on NAB. Apart from that, the army chief discussed a lot of things but I want to maintain the decorum of the meeting and do not wish to discuss them here as they are not for public consumption and I do not wish to present them with a political angle," Asif said. 

"But since I have been named [in media reports, I want to address one matter]," he continued. 

"When election rigging was brought up in the meeting, the army chief addressed me to say that 'You called me on the night of the election'," Asif narrated. 

He explained that he had called the army chief to discuss reports he had received from polling agents regarding irregularities and "massive rigging" in polling stations in his constituency. 

"He [the army chief] had told me not to worry and that everything will be all right. I have contested five elections, and results are usually finalised around 8-8.30pm — [but in this case] the results were not final till the following afternoon, when I found out that I had won with a 1,700 or 1,800 vote margin." 

"So he did mention [my call] and I had indeed called him, I do not deny it. I had done so because the army was deployed on polling stations. They were safeguarding the polling stations and were responsible for the decorum and sanctity of the stations. That was the basis for me contacting the army chief as I felt I was being wronged," Asif explained. 

The show's host, Shahzeb Khanzada, then reminded Asif that the army chief had also reportedly said that the army did not want to be involved in the electoral process. Gen Bajwa had reportedly said the political leadership should legislate on the matter to strengthen the electoral process and only ask for the army's help where security became an issue. 

However, Asif denied that that was said in those exact words, but said the gist of the conversation was that every time the army has entered politics in the last 73 years has been because, in the army chief's view, the civilians have given that space to the army and sought the army's help against each other. 

"He said this not just once, but two or three times," Asif said. 

When asked if Leader of the Opposition Shehbaz Sharif had complained to the army chief about the prime minister's incendiary rhetoric against political opponents, he was reminded that he (Shehbaz) too had made heated speeches against his opponents in the past, Asif responded saying that the army chief had indeed made two or three observations regarding political speeches. 

"He [the army chief] said 'You politicians make these speeches. You [Shehbaz] once said I am going to drag [Asif Ali Zardari] through the streets and you later had to deal with it. [Likewise] the prime minister's old speeches have also come back to haunt him' — he mentioned the prime minister as well," Asif said. "Then he [the army chief] also made mention of some meetings he had had with some personalities, which I do not want to speak about."

Read more: Criticism on state institutions during APC an attempt to appease Indian lobby, says PM Imran Khan

Returning to what he described as "the gist of the conversation", Asif said all those present had come to the conclusion that it was time to turn a new page. 

"This is my point of view — and the participants of that meeting by and large supported this point of view; it was, indeed, the unanimous view — that in the past 70-72 years, excesses have been committed by all concerned — every component of the power structure has committed excesses, which includes politicians, the establishment (which means the army, the bureaucracy and the judiciary) as well as the media."

"All of them are involved in what I described [in the meeting] as a 'territorial dispute' between different power centers. All those involved need to sit under one roof and resolve these disputes, and these disputes will only be resolved when we set aside our personal and institutional interests and focus on the national interest based on the rule of law and Constitution and the will of the people. 

"We need to leave a legacy for our future generations. Whatever has been done by the elite in the past 70-72 years — the same elite which includes me, which includes Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Musharraf and Zia [ul Haq]; which includes some rogue members of the judiciary; which includes the media as well [...] I believe it is critical to set boundaries for all under the Constitution. This is what I presented to the meeting, and by and large the others also spoke about the same things. Even the army chief said the same things," Asif said. 

Khanzada then asked why, if the meeting had concluded on such a positive note, did Nawaz Sharif deliver a highly confrontational speech targeting the army and establishment within three or four days of the meeting and why the APC issued such an aggressive statement? 

"Look this matter cannot be resolved after just one meeting," Asif responded. "You need to initiate a concrete dialogue on a national level for two, three or four months. This [the territorial dispute] was not even the topic or agenda of that meeting in the first place: we just happened to have this conversation and reached a consensus after it."

"Even today, there needs to be a dialogue on this issue so that this acrimony on the national level is not passed down to our next generation." 

Khanzada, however, asked how there would be any dialogue when, after Nawaz Sharif's speech, the accusation against the PML-N was that it was acting in line with Indian motives and aspirations. 

However, Asif dismissed the accusations of treachery, saying his father had suffered them and now he himself was suffering them. He said Nawaz Sharif would be judged by the people based on his performance, and nothing anyone said regarding him would hold up against that performance. 

"We are talking about the law and Constitution, and upholding of the will of the people. If someone is being angered by what we have said, I want to ask them how Imran Khan is going to benefit their purposes," Asif said. 

"When that conversation ends, then we can talk about how we can establish the rule of law and supremacy of the Constitution and how all institutions are going to be bound within their limits by it."