Nawaz Sharif ‘unhappy’ with handling of Faizabad sit-in

ISLAMABAD: Upset by the mishandling of the Faizabad sit-in and the total surrender of his party’s government to the protesters, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief Nawaz Sharif on Tuesday said that recent events had damaged the country’s repute at the international level.

Party sources told Dawn that in an “informal meeting” with the senior party leaders at Punjab House soon after appearing before an accountability court, the PML-N chief showed his displeasure over the language used in the one-sided army-brokered agreement between the government and the protesters.

Insiders said Mr Sharif was also unhappy because he was not consulted during talks with protesting leaders and over the preparation of the draft of the six-point agreement, where the government agreed to nearly all the protesters’ demands.

When Mr Sharif asked specific questions from Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal about the handling of the sit-in, the minister requested a “private meeting” with him over the issue. Later, sources said, Mr Iqbal and his deputy Talal Chaudhry briefed Mr Sharif on the issue.

Concerned over ‘negative message’ sent to Beijing, other capitals; seeks answers from interior minister

A senior party leader and a close associate of Mr Sharif’s told Dawn that the PML-N chief was perturbed because of the negative message this protest and its aftermath sent to foreign capitals, especially Beijing.

The PML-N leader who was privy to developments said Mr Sharif believed that there would be concerns in Washington, London, Paris and particularly Beijing, over recent developments in the country.

The Chinese were making a huge investment in the country in the form of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and they definitely did not want to see religious extremism rear its head again, the source said.

“For the past four years, we have been telling the world that there has been a considerable decline in religious extremism in the country. Now, they have received the message that we are actually protecting religious extremism,” the senior leader quoted Mr Sharif as saying.

The party leader claimed that Mr Sharif was kept in the dark over the agreement and learned about it through the media, when it was presented before the high court.

Mr Sharif was of the view that Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and others in the government must know if these protesters came to Islamabad on their own or if they had been “facilitated” by someone. The PML-N chief also wanted to know who actually drafted the agreement, which contained praise for the protesters and the role of the army.

Moreover, Mr Sharif expressed concerns over the use of arms and tear-gas shells by the protesters and asked the interior minister to investigate where they obtained these shells, which were not even available to the country’s law enforcement agencies.

When asked to comment, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal told Dawn via text message that “no displeasure was expressed [by Mr Sharif] with me on any matter related to the interior ministry”.

Prominent among those present in the meeting were PML-N Chairman and Senator Raja Zafarul Haq, Senator Pervaiz Rashid and Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique.

Talking to Dawn, Mr Rashid denied that the party chief had presided over a formal party meeting. He said various party leaders had gathered at Punjab House to meet Mr Sharif, and that during the meeting, the political situation of the country also came under discussion.

Mr Rashid said the former PM would proceed to Balochistan next week, where he would address a public meeting in Quetta on Dec 2. After that, Mr Sharif planned to head to London where his wife was undergoing cancer treatment. He said the PML-N chief was expected to return to the country after two weeks, when he would visit Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and south Punjab.

When contacted, Senator Raja Zafarul Haq claimed that party leaders had mostly discussed organisational matters and chalked out a plan for public meetings in the future.