Leader of Opposition in Pakistan's Parliament Shehbaz Sharif believes that the powerful military establishment is not taking sides in the current political crisis in the country in the wake of a no-trust motion against Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Speaking on SAMAA TV's show 'Nadeem Malik Live' on Friday night, Sharif openly spoke about several thorny issues including his ties with the Army, the appointment of a new army chief, electoral reforms and the role of the army in the prevailing political situation.
Sharif, who is the president of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and younger brother of three-time premier Nawaz Sharif, also insisted that though Opposition parties wanted him to be the interim prime minister, the final decision would be made by his elder brother Nawaz Sharif, currently in London for medical treatment.
Around 100 lawmakers from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) submitted the no-confidence motion before the National Assembly Secretariat on March 8, alleging that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) government led by Khan was responsible for the current economic crisis and spiralling inflation in the country.
The National Assembly session for the move is expected to be convened on March 21 and the voting is likely to be held on March 28.
During the SAMAA TV interview, Sharif was asked about the role of the establishment in the current scenario - to which he said that opposition members had not received phone calls from anyone so far. He added, "No one has told me that they have received a call (from the military establishment)."
Earlier this month, the powerful army distanced itself from the brewing political situation in the country, saying it has nothing to do with the politics.
"It is better for all of us to avoid unnecessary speculation on this matter [army’s role in current situation]," Military spokesperson Major General Babar Iftikhar had said.
Reiterating that the army has nothing to do with the politics, he urged the media and people not to speculate about it.
He said this had been the stance of the Pakistan Army and it "will continue to be its stance".
Maj Gen Iftikhar’s remarks came after Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry rejected the notion that the country's powerful army was supporting the Opposition and claimed that the armed forces continued to stand with the government of Prime Minister Khan.
The powerful army, which has ruled Pakistan for more than half of its 73-plus years of existence, has hitherto wielded considerable power in the matters of security and foreign policy.
Khan, 69, is heading a coalition government and he can be removed if some of the partners decide to switch sides, which is not unusual in parliamentary democracies.
Sharif said Khan used to say that when the umpire becomes neutral everything becomes fair, but now he has used words that “I cannot bring to my tongue”.
He was referring to a recent statement from the prime minister saying humans take sides and “only animals are neutral”.
The younger Sharif said that he has always enjoyed good relations with every Army chief of the country as he served as a bridge between Rawalpindi (Army headquarter) and Islamabad (seat of the political government).
In response to a question about the appointment of the next army chief when the term of the incumbent expires in November, or giving an extension to the current chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Shehbaz said: "It is a premature question” and will be considered when the time comes in the national interest.
Despite being asked several times, he refused to answer the question if an “extension would be on the table”.
He said after winning the no-confidence motion against Khan, the Opposition would quickly review and improve the electoral reforms including voting rights for overseas Pakistanis. He accused Prime Minister Khan of bulldozing the electoral reforms legislation through the Parliament and that the Opposition would make appropriate changes.
He said overseas Pakistan must get the voting right but in a way that a single party does not get all the benefits and everyone has a level-playing field.
Sharif confirmed that they plan to reserve a seat each in the National Assembly and the Senate for overseas Pakistanis.
The PML-N president said he does not know about any 'minus Imran Khan formula', but if Khan is not removed from politics using political and constitutional methods, Pakistan’s future is in danger as under him Pakistan has experienced “the worst governance and delivery” of benefits.
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement Pakistan (MQM-P) and Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), the two allied parties of Khan's PTI have presented a "minus- Imran Khan" formula to save the incumbent government ahead of voting on the no-confidence motion.
The PML-N president said the country's political parties need to build consensus on the economic recovery of Pakistan. He said that political leadership needs to end polarisation.
Asked if he would instruct the National Accountability Bureau, the anti-corruption watchdog, to investigate corruption charges against the current ruling leadership after it is removed from power, Sharif said that the law would take its due course.