–Former prime minister says he failed to convince the establishment that elections should be fair
As arrest looms over former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, the senior PML-N leader speaks about the LNG scam, NAB arrests, NROs and the current political crisis faced by the country.
Q: You are the most talked about person in Pakistan. International media has also started talking about your potential arrest. Where do you see yourself in a fortnight?
SKA: *chuckles* According to the reports in a jail. There is no reason to arrest me. There are no charges. There is nothing but if somebody wants to, they are most welcome. We have a long history of these things. I have seen many NAB cases before.
Q: Did your deal cost national exchequer $2bn?
SKA: If I have caused that kind of a loss to the country than I should be arrested. It is as simple as that. But if I have not caused the loss then they should share the profits with me or at least apologize.
Q: Senator Abdul Qayyum says it could be an error of judgement nothing more than that, and an error of judgment in making macro decisions don’t count as corruption. What’s your take?
SKA: I am available to debate on any live forum with anybody, be it NAB, experts or any ministry. Take up my five-year tenure as a Minister of Petroleum is with the government today. Let them file a case against me.
Q: But they have turned an inquiry into an investigation.
SKA: That is NAB. The government says they have nothing to do with NAB.
Q: But NAB’s timings points otherwise.
SKA: That is a different story. Let the government say something. Let the minister stand up and say where the loss has been caused.
Q: What do you have to say about the arrests that took place before the budget?
SKA: Take a look at all the arrests by NAB, their timing and proofs they present. NAB is under doubts. Is it a minor matter that you pick up leader of the opposition of National Assembly, get his remand for seventy days and you have no charges against him. What kind of a joke is that? There is a thing called due process in the world. Where is the due process? You are just maligning people by arresting them and leaking false things about them in the press.
Q: Are you that sure of Sharif family as you are of yourself?
SKA: Yes. File charges against them. Let the people know what they have done. I have filled out a questionnaire which includes income, expenditure and assets. Let the cabinet of this country also fill this out. Let the people read it. Let the prime minister fill this. Let the cabinet tell us how much taxes they have paid in the last five years. Let the prime minister tell us that. He said he runs two houses, I run one in Lahore and one in Islamabad. Where does the money come from? Even if it comes from friends it is income. He should show that he got income from friends and paid that much tax on it.
And if our Prime Minister is running on friends then we have got a very serious problem.
Q: You said Imran Khan needed a mental checkup.
SKA: No! I didn’t say a mental checkup. You really have to understand where the man is coming from. I questioned his sanity; find out if he is sane or not because it is a constitutional requirement that your Prime Minister has to be sane. At midnight he comes and starts talking gibberish like that. What are you trying to say? It is a televised speech to 220 million people.
Q: What about the timing of the speech?
SKA: That is why I am questioning the sanity of the PM. He should be examined by a parcel of doctors who should make the report public.
Q: So you want the report to be made public?
SKA: Of course. We politicians live in the public eye. I’d also want unedited parts of his speech to be made public so that people know what their PM is thinking.
Q: There are speculations that Rawalpindi played a role in the editing process of that speech.
SKA: I don’t know anybody in Rawalpindi. I live in Islamabad.
Q: There have been speculations about the prospects of an NRO between the Sharif family and the military establishment. What is your take on that?
SKA: NRO can only be given by a dictator in a non-constitutional setup. PML-N has never taken an NRO.
Q: Was there no NRO in 1999?
SKA: No! There was no NRO in 1999. NRO was taken by other people.
Q: The vocabulary used for that may have been different but wasn’t it essentially the same thing?
SKA: NRO is that I have committed a crime and in return for being let off I am willing to do this. Nawaz in 1999 was allowed to leave under international pressure. That was a military government and they had already tried Nawaz on hijacking charges.
Q: How do you see this government’s foreign policy?
SKA: Foreign policy today is subordinate to our economic strength.
Q: And our military perhaps?
SKA: There is always an element of input from the Military into foreign policy all over the world. In our situation, it’s probably more because we had long periods of military rule and we have a long border on the eastern side with India with whom we have fought four wars. On the western side of Pakistan, there has been an ongoing war for the last forty years.
Our army there has fought a very vicious war and sacrificed a lot so there will always be input from them.
Q: But is that an excuse for intervention in political affairs?
SKA: There is no excuse for intervention in political affairs. That is why I am saying let’s document the history of this country objectively and impartially. It’s not to punish or malign anybody. But the people of Pakistan ought to know the truth that has been hidden for the past 70 years.
Q: Should that truth include Hamoodur Rehman Commission’s report and Abbottabad Commission’s report?
SKA: It includes everything. It is not to malign anybody. People of Pakistan deserve to know the facts. There have been patriots and traitors in this country. There have been military generals who have ruled here. Everybody has made their share of mistakes and made their share of contribution. Let those be documented because what we know today is totally perverted I can tell you this.
Politicians have made their share of mistakes and the army has the baggage of its own. Who has suffered? The country has suffered. So we need to get out of that and need to realize that the country will only run under a constitutional rule. If there is something wrong with the constitution then change the constitution.
Q: What if by documentation of facts we come to a conclusion that shatters the ideological basis of this country?
SKA: If our ideology is so weak that it can’t sustain the truth then it has no value. Then that’s not an ideology, it is a falsehood.
Q: Would you suggest that we start in 1947 or even before that?
SKA: Start in 1947. We need to know exactly what happened. What was the thought process of the people at the time? What were they thinking? How did they make decisions? What were the factors that influenced them?
It will provide us with the basis to make better decisions in the future. Right now we are condemned to repeat the past. Again and again, we do the same thing. We suffer the same consequences and then we are sorry about it.
Q: You said in one of your press conferences that the government’s objective is to silence the opposition using NAB. Where do you see this going?
SKA: Not very far. NAB is only being used to suppress the opposition. People don’t believe what the NAB is saying. If you malign somebody, you have selective accountability, different standards for different people then who will trust you.
If you want to catch thieves the biggest thieves in this country are the people who don’t pay taxes. It is very easy to catch them. Why is not anybody going after them?
Q: What was your biggest achievement as a prime minister?
SKA: I was given a mandate by my party. We kept the government going. We were a broken and a maligned government but we still completed our term, completed all our projects, kept funding them. We passed the constitutional amendment bill; gave Pakistan the best tax reform; we achieved a 5 % growth rate; kept inflation under control: all in ten months.
Look at what Imran Khan has achieved. The period he has served is almost the same.
Q: What was your biggest failure as a prime minister?
SKA: The only regret is that I failed to convince the military establishment that Pakistan should get a free and fair election. I tried to convince them and failed to deliver free and fair elections to the people of Pakistan.
Q: What was their response?
SKA: It was not a matter of debate between two people but a matter of principles and procedures.
By Kamil Ahmed
The writer is a political activist and a research analyst based in Lahore.