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Pakistan’s Sharif Details Civil-Military Divide Over Militants

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif

Most Pakistani officials and politicians have united in condemning and opposing U.S. President Donald Trump’s pronouncement that instead of extending antiterrorism cooperation with Washington, Islamabad has misled U.S leaders through “lies and deceit.”

But ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif urged some soul-searching and called on the country’s powerful military establishment to abandon self-deception.

“As a Pakistani citizen, I want to point out that with all our honesty, we should appraise our actions,” he told journalists in Islamabad on January 3.

“I have repeatedly urged putting our house in order and have urged to reflect on why the world holds negative opinions about us,” he said in an apparent reference to frequent calls by Pakistan’s neighbors and world powers to end its support for militant groups fighting insurgencies and responsible for terrorist attacks in Afghanistan and India.

Sharif said that his advice on changing Pakistan’s security policies was ignored. “It was not only overlooked but it was maligned as Dawn leaks to question my patriotism,” he said while reading from a paper at a crowded press conference.

He was referring to a story by Pakistan’s English-language daily Dawn in October 2016 that reported an unprecedented warning by Sharif’s administration to the country’s military leadership to either act against militant groups of face international isolation.

The Pakistani military, however, rejected the story as fabricated. Its push for a probe eventually resulted in several key civilian officials, all Sharif loyalists, losing their jobs.

“We need to ask ourselves why, despite our sacrifices, the world is not listening to us, why the blood of our army, police, civil security forces, civilians, and innocent children is so cheap in the eyes of the world,” Sharif asked. “Despite great human and financial losses over 17 years, why our narrative is not being listened to.”

In July, Pakistan’s apex court removed Sharif from office after a lengthy corruption probe prompted by the Panama Papers revelations. The court ousted him over undeclared assets.

Sharif, however, characterized his removal as a witch hunt and often has questioned why he lost his job for not declaring the remuneration he was entitled to receive from his son’s company in Dubai.

While declaring that Trump’s January 1 tweet that blamed Islamabad for providing “safe havens to the terrorists” as “unfortunate,” Sharif urged an honest self-appraisal.

“If we continue to ignore [questions about Pakistan’s murky dealings with militants] by declaring them unpatriotic then it will amount to a major self-deception,” he told journalists. “Such blunders have already led to the division of Pakistan [into two countries with the independence of Bangladesh in 1971]. We have to break this spell of self-deception.”

In what amounted to a direct warning against the military’s intervention in politics, Sharif threatened to expose those responsible for engaging in such behind-the-scenes maneuvers.

“I will tell the story of the past four years and will also tell how the ongoing process is being manipulated,” he said. “Enslaved democracy is a form of dictatorship, which will never be able to protect the country’s national security.”