(Bloomberg) -- Pakistan’s top military and civilian leaders on Monday rejected criticisms by former premier Nawaz Sharif over the nation’s handling of militant groups and the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
“It was very unfortunate that the opinion arising out of either misconceptions or grievances was being presented in disregard of concrete facts and realities,” according to a statement released by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s office after a meeting of top civil and military leaders. The participants of the National Security Committee “condemned the fallacious assertions.”
Pakistan’s powerful military called for the discussion after Sharif’s comments were published over the weekend in Dawn, Pakistan’s leading English-language daily newspaper.
In his interview, the ex-prime minister -- who was ousted over corruption allegations by the Supreme Court in July -- reignited debate over Pakistan’s alleged support of extremist groups that launch attacks against neighboring rival India.
“Militant organizations are active. Call them non-state actors, should we allow them to cross the border and kill 150 people in Mumbai?” Dawn quoted Sharif as saying. “Explain it to me. Why can’t we complete the trial?,” Sharif said according to Dawn, referring to a stalled anti-terrorism trial over the attacks in India’s financial capital.
Earlier, the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz distanced itself from the report and said in a statement on Sunday that it was “misinterpreted” by Indian and Pakistani media. However, the comments by Sharif, the party’s leader, will increase tensions in an already fraught relationship between the civilian government and military -- which has ruled the nation for much of its 70 years -- before elections this year.
Sharif has an acrimonious relationship with the army -- he was previously removed from power in a 1999 coup. The six-man Supreme Court-mandated investigative team that brought about Sharif’s latest downfall last year also included two active members of the military’s intelligence arms. The former prime minister and his children -- who deny all wrong doing -- are now facing criminal charges related to property purchases in London.
Pakistan has long been accused of supporting proxy insurgent groups that further its foreign policy objectives -- from the claim on the disputed region of Kashmir to the installation of a pro-Pakistani government in Afghanistan. The army has consistently denied supporting terrorists, though in the past some Pakistani officials have admitted to alleged involvement in the Mumbai attacks.
Relations between the U.S. and Pakistan have also deteriorated drastically this year after U.S. President Donald Trump in January suspended billions of dollars of military aid and said Islamabad gave “lies and deceit” in return for funding.
Dawn quoted Sharif saying that Pakistan had become “isolated” as the world refuses to believe the nation is serious about battling terrorism, despite the government and army continually pointing to the thousands of military and civilian casualties sustained fighting domestic insurgent groups.
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