A BBC Urdu radio report has claimed that last month’s “treasonous meeting” between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Indian steel tycoon Sajjan Jindal in Murree was actually backchannel diplomacy cleared with Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa. Given the poisoned political environment of Pakistan, the media had been quick to lash out at Sharif following the meeting, accusing him of “hobnobbing with a messenger of Pakistan’s archenemy Modi,” possibly for money.
Sharif’s daughter, Maryam Nawaz, sought to disarm suspicion on Twitter, calling it a “normal” visit: “Mr. Jindal is an old friend of the prime minister.” She said nothing about the meeting being “cleared” with the GHQ. The P.M.’s secretariat too kept mum as did the GHQ. Hence, the question is: should one trust the BBC report? No one in Pakistan seems to want to clear the toxic air. The fact is that Jindal and his family called and the Pakistani media noted the visit. After that the detractors got busy on talkshows across the country. And no one from the office of General Bajwa said anything to disabuse them. The BBC quoted “important official sources” saying the prime minister had taken the general into confidence after the Jindal meeting, telling him that the visit was an initiative to “reduce tension between the two countries.”
The incident has heightened the opposition’s fear that a Sharif-Bajwa tacit understanding over contentious issues had developed and that there was little chance left for the opposition to unseat the prime minister now. Half a dozen senior retired army officers appearing on talkshows too became upset, this time with their own military leader, for smoking the peace pipe with a “corrupt” leader already wilting under a Supreme Court inquiry for money-laundering. One retired general went so far as to say that the “chief should have realized that he would find it difficult to explain this truce to his rank and file.” That this is abnormal conduct is clear only to observers outside Pakistan. In Pakistan the stage is set so familiarly for another toppling that not unseating the prime minister would be unforgivable.