LAHORE - Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has once again proved himself to be a man of strong nerves who is capable of sustaining all sorts of pressures, and in the end do what he wants to do.
This has fully been reflected in his decision to appoint Gen Qamar Bajwa as the new army chief, soon after his return yesterday from Turkmenistan’s capital where he had gone to participate in the Global Conference on Sustainable Transport.
I travelled with him to Ashgabat and closely observed his body language, his composure and the manner of consultations with his kitchen cabinet – which includes his Special Assistant on National History and Literary Heritage Irfan Siddiqui, Special Assistant on Foreign Affairs Tariq Fatmi, Personal Secretary Fawad Hassan Fawad and Press Secretary Mohiuddin Wani.
The issue of outgoing Army Chief Raheel Sharif’s retirement or his getting extension kept the entire nation in the grip of guess games despite his categorically announcing 10 months ago that he won’t seek extension in his tenure.
And, he remained committed to his announcement despite the fact that some of the leading political parties kept instigating him at either send the government packing on some pretext or continue as the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS).
On his way to Ashgabat, the prime minister remained engaged with his comrades-in-arms going through one file after another. Since he was sitting quite close to me, I would see a graceful smile spread on face every time we crossed eyes - giving an impression the prime minister was not stressed while deciding the vital issue at hand. Besides brief moments of intense contemplation, his posture smacked of a man who is serious yet quite at ease with what he was doing.
This morning he sent for accompanying media persons for an early breakfast meeting, and he fired the first question straight to this correspondent: “Bokhari Sahib, when should I make the announcement regarding appointment of the new Chief of Army Staff?” Being ready for it, I remarked: “Mr Prime Minister, you are in the habit of making such announcements just a day before the deadline; like you announced the name of Gen Raheel Sharif on Nov 28”.
The Premier smiled and said he won’t be able to do that this time since the last working day of the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee is today. He was asked when the final announcement was coming, Irfan Siddiqui quipped: “It could be right here on the breakfast table, it could be during my meeting with Turkmenistan President, or it could be made during the flight back home.
The prime minister himself kept smiling and left us all guessing, but immediately after his landing at Chaklala Airbase at 2pm, he rushed to the Presidency and advised the president to promote and appoint Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and Gen Zubair Hayat at the top two slots of country’s military.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan, who termed Raheel Sharif as the ‘Third Umpire’ during his party’s 2014 sit-in in Islamabad and claimed he was going to raise his finger ‘in next 24 hours’ must have been utterly disappointed with this smooth transition at the GHQ.
The impression given by Khan a number of times that he had some kind of secret links with military establishment yielded him nothing. It however posed a threat to the honor and status of Raheel Sharif that he had earned by the success of Zarb-e-Azb operation, Karachi action against extremist elements and foreign agents, besides demonstrating his total commitment to the CPEC through commissioning of the Gwadar Port and dispatching the first cargo ship carrying Chinese and Pakistani goods to world destinations.
In his opening remarks at the breakfast, Premier Nawaz said gone were the days when no political party would hesitate to engage in anti-democratic activities for their own interest.
“We signed Charter of Democracy with Pakistan People’s Party chairperson late Benazir Bhutto in 2005 with an aim to bring about political tolerance and we keep sticking to it until now. PML-N was tagged as a ‘Friendly Opposition’ to the PPP government in the Centre, but we bore such allegation with patience for the greater good of the country,” he said.
And then, it was like Nawaz Sharif has just laid bare his heart when he went on to tell what kind of treatment they were meted out on their return to country during Gen (r) President Musharraf’s rule.
“I returned to Pakistan in 2006. We were not allowed fair play. My nomination papers and my brother Shehbaz Sharif’s were not accepted for contesting 2008 general election. Musharraf had a caretaker setup of his choice and also had a strong grip over the local body institutions through the ‘king’s party’- Pakistan Muslim League (Q). So, Gen Musharraf got me and Shehbaz disqualified.
“Despite all this, we did not play the politics of resignations. I was asked to resign several times but I snubbed those advising me to undertake negative politics. You have witnessed at least two political parties playing politics of resignations. They resign and take their resignations back over and over again. We were not elected to resign; so, we avoided this negative practice.”
Not only this, the Premier said after his party won the 2013 elections, it was in a position to form government in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but in line with true democratic norms, it allowed other parties to form the government. “We did the same in Sindh and allowed Pakistan People’s Party to exercise its right to rule the province.”
The prime minister cited movement by his party for restoration of higher judiciary as ‘historical’. “We should be given credit for it,” he remarked.
decisions with ease!