Pak Army Trains Fire on Sharif for Saying Establishment is Delaying 26/11 Trial

The former prime minister’s claim on the Pakistani establishment’s support for terror groups was in reference to the international community not accepting Islamabad’s “narrative” of being a ‘victim’ of terrorism.

New Delhi: Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s implicit criticism of “parallel governments” – a euphemism for the military establishment – for fostering Pakistan’s international isolation by harbouring militant organisations and stalling the trial of 26/11 Mumbai terror attack has prompted a backlash from the Pakistan army and opposition leaders who accused him of being “pro-India”.

On Sunday, the official spokesperson of the Pakistan army, Mr Gen Asif Ghafoor, took to Twitter to announce that the army had “suggested” Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi hold a meeting of the country’s National Security Council to discuss Nawaz Sharif’s “misleading media statement regarding Bombay incident” and that the meeting will be held Monday morning.

On Saturday, Dawn published an interview of Sharif, who has been travelling across the country to claim that he has been victimised by the judiciary at the behest of the Pakistan army.

Sharif had resigned following a Supreme Court order in July 2017, which disqualified him from holding office due to allegations of corruption related to disclosures in the Panama Papers. In April this year, the Pakistani Supreme Court barred him from holding any public position for life.

Sharif’s claim on the Pakistani establishment’s support for terror groups was in reference to the international community not accepting Islamabad’s “narrative” of being a ‘victim’ of terrorism. Dawn reported,

“He continued: “Militant organisations are active. Call them non-state actors, should we allow them to cross the border and kill 150 people in Mumbai? Explain it to me. Why can’t we complete the trial?” — a reference to the Mumbai attacks-related trials which have stalled in a Rawalpindi anti-terrorism court.”

He claimed that Pakistan’s security and foreign policies “had isolated ourselves”. “Despite giving sacrifices, our narrative is not being accepted. Afghanistan’s narrative is being accepted, but ours is not. We must look into it,” he added.

“Pro-India” stance flayed

Since all Pakistani governments since 2009 have acknowledged the terror attack was carried out by individuals and groups based in Pakistan, it is Nawaz Sharif’s criticism of the delayed trial process that is likely to stir up the greatest controversy.

Opposition leaders from Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf to the Pakistan Peoples Party have reacted to Sharif’s remarks with anger.

“Every Pakistani feels hurt by Nawaz Sharif’s statement. It is indeed an open pro-Indian declaration,” Shah Mahmood Qureshi of the PTI leader was quoted as saying by the Nation. Qureshi was Pakistan’s foreign minister when  the Mumbai terror attack took place.

According to the Nation, “Qureshi said Mumbai attack was India’s self made drama. It was not Islamabad but New Delhi which tactfully tried to delay the trial of Mumbai attack incident in Pakistani court and failed to provide any solid proof about it, he added.”

The newspaper also quoted PPP Leader Manzoor Watoo condemning “Nawaz’s pro-India interview” and describing his remarks as a “serious attack on Pakistan’s national interest.”

Not the first time Sharif has acknowledged role of Pakistanis

While this time Sharif’s statement about the role of Pakistan-based “non-state actors” in 26/11 may have been made publicly, he has previously acknowledged the involvement of Pakistani nationals even to American visitors.

A US embassy cable, leaked by Wikileaks, recounts a meeting between visiting senator John McCain and Sharif in December 2008, when the latter was in the opposition. The cable says:

“Regarding India, Sharif acknowledged the country’s anger, but criticized the Indian media for its “indecent haste” in blaming Pakistan. But he described how he had listened to the phone call made by one of the attackers and even though the individual claimed he was Indian, Sharif heard a Pakistani accent. “The people involved were from this country — I am convinced,” he stated. “We must take strictest action against those elements.” Once India produces concrete evidence, “we should proceed whole hog,” he declared.”

However, despite Sharif’s personal opinion, there wasn’t much progress in prosecuting the masterminds behind the 26/11 attacks during his tenure.

Never-ending trial

It has been nine years since Pakistan opened the process of prosecuting the suspects behind 26/11, but so far none of the seven Lashkar-e-Tayyaba terrorists have been punished.

Till now, the anti-terrorism court has finished taking the statement of all 70 prosecution witnesses. However, Pakistan has claimed that it needs access to Indian witnesses to carry forward the legal process.

India had replied that since the conspiracy of the attack took place on Pakistani soil, it was the responsibility of the Pakistani government to gather all evidence and present it before the trial court.

The latest setback to the trial was last month, when the Pakistan interior ministry removed the chef prosecutor for “not taking the government line”.

India has made progress in the Mumbai and Pathankot attack cases one of the requirements for resumption of a dialogue process with Pakistan.

Sharif’s remarks to Dawn were also perhaps dictated by his disenchantment with the Pakistan military establishment whom he and his party, PML-N, considers as being responsible for his ouster.

“You can’t run a country if you have two or three parallel governments. This has to stop. There can only be one government: the constitutional one,” Sharif said on Friday.

During his third term as prime minister, there had been persistent reports of differences between Sharif and the army over various issues, especially on relations with India. Sharif had travelled to India for the swearing-in ceremony of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and also welcomed the latter in Lahore during a surprise trip in December 2015.

Relations between Sharif and the military worsened after Dawn published a report on October 6, 2016 saying that senior members of the civilian government had warned the army to stop supporting militancy during a closed-door meeting chaired by Sharif. Under pressure, information minister Pervaiz Rasheed was fired. The matter was “settled” after the sacking of three officers, including Tariq Fatermi, the prime minister’s special assistant on foreign affairs, following the recommendations of an inquiry committee.

There had also been concerns at the inclusion of two serving military officers in the Joint Investigation Team which probed the allegations against Sharif and his family. This had even led Pakistan army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa to deny “rumours” of the army’s alleged role to parliamentarians visiting the General Headquarters.

Note: The story was updated at 23:26 on May 13 to include the statement by Pakistan’s military spokesperson.