Islamabad, Sep 22 (PTI) Pakistan Army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa and ISI head Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed held a secret meeting with the key Opposition leaders just days before a multi-party conference and asked them to refrain from dragging the military’s name into their political differences with Prime Minister Imran Khan, a media report said on Tuesday.
The Dawn reported that Bajwa and Hameed held the meeting on September 16 in which about 15 politicians, including Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, were present.
According to the ground rules set for the session, the meeting was not to be publicly disclosed, the report said.
Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid, while confirming the meeting and its participants, said it was held to discuss the impending changes in the constitutional status of Gilgit-Baltistan, a move opposed by India.
However, the Opposition used this opportunity to flag its concerns about other issues, especially the military’s alleged interference in politics and allegations of persecution of its leaders on the pretext of accountability.
Rashid was one of the ministers who attended the meeting, the report said.
Political observers linked the timing of the meeting and its disclosure with the Opposition’s multi-party conference held here on Sunday in which former prime minister Nawaz Sharif bitterly criticised the Army, saying there was “a state above the state in the country”.
Criticism by other Opposition leaders, in comparison to Sharif’s remarks, was relatively subtle. Sharif is currently in London for medical treatment.
Sharif, 70, the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) supremo, has been living in London since November last year after the Lahore High Court granted him permission to go abroad for four weeks for treatment.
Despite the meeting with the Army chief, a 26-point declaration issued at the end of the Opposition meeting later, however, contained assertions about ending “establishment’s interference in politics” and “no role of armed forces and intelligence agencies” in future elections.
Following the multi-party conference, the major Opposition parties demanded Prime Minister Khan's immediate resignation and launched an alliance to hold a countrywide protest movement to oust his government.
Gen Bajwa clearly told the participants of the meeting that the Army was not in any manner linked to the political processes and had no involvement in matters concerning election reforms and accountability, the report said.
He said the military only responds to calls for assistance by the elected civilian government and it would continue doing so irrespective of who is in the office. He also conveyed that no one would be allowed to create chaos in the country, it said.
The allegations of a political witch-hunt in the name of accountability was raised by the PML-N.
Bajwa said that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) chief and election commissioner were picked up by political leaders represented in Parliament, therefore they needed to be careful in choosing them.
The PML-N remained mum about the participation of its leaders in the meeting while the PPP said it would issue a formal comment on the meeting on Tuesday.
However, Senator Sherry Rehman told a TV talk show that her party’s chairman talked about the status of Gilgit-Baltistan and its upcoming elections.
Bilawal stressed on the need for free and fair elections in Gilgit-Baltistan due to the sensitivities attached to the region, she said.
On Monday, Gen Bajwa met Prime Minister Khan but the Prime Minister‘s Office did not issue any statement on the meeting. PTI SH CPS AKJ CPS