New Delhi: The Russian invasion of Ukraine is a “huge tragedy” and “must be stopped immediately”, said Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa Saturday, in a major statement ahead of the no-confidence vote against Prime Minister Imran Khan Sunday.
Condemning the war, Bajwa said, “Pakistan has consistently called for an immediate ceasefire and cessation of hostilities. We support immediate dialogue between all sides to find a lasting solution to the conflict.” He also called for all disputes with India, including Kashmir to be settled through dialogue.
Bajwa referred to Pakistan’s “long and excellent strategic relationship with the US”, and how the UK and the EU were vital to the country’s interests. This was in stark contrast to statements by PM Khan, whose rhetoric has become increasingly anti-US and anti-EU.
Giving a speech in Urdu at the same venue as Bajwa a day before — the Islamabad Security Dialogue, which aims to bring together Pakistani and foreign intelligentsia — Khan claimed that a “powerful country” was upset with his visit to the Kremlin just as Russia launched its campaign against Ukraine on 24 February.
He noted that the unnamed country’s ally, India, was continuing to import oil from Russia despite Western sanctions against Moscow, and praised New Delhi’s “independent foreign policy” — in contrast to Islamabad’s failure to “stand on its own two feet”.
“Today, I read the British foreign secretary’s statement that they can’t say anything to India as it has an independent foreign policy. I don’t blame them (West) for this support, but what are we then,” he said, referring to UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss’s remarks.
Khan had also alleged in an address to the nation Thursday that the US had sent a “threatening” memo as part of a “foreign conspiracy” to topple his government.
The contrasting stances of the army chief and the prime minister come in the backdrop of a reported rift between Khan and the military establishment, which had backed his rise to power. The army has maintained an avowedly neutral stance on the no-confidence motion.
Reports suggest that differences had developed between Khan and Bajwa over the appointment of a new chief of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) last October.
At the same time, a planned address to the nation by Khan Saturday was cancelled, purportedly on orders given by the Pakistan Army. According to diplomats in Islamabad, Bajwa and his ISI deputy advised Khan against addressing the nation as it would “vitiate the atmosphere in the country.”
Pakistan’s information minister, Fawad Chaudhary, in a media address on Saturday, denied that the army chief had asked Khan to resign.
The no-confidence motion against Khan was tabled in the National Assembly on 28 March by a united opposition with the support of disgruntled legislators from Khan’s own Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). Khan has effectively lost his majority in Parliament after a key partner of the ruling coalition, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), joined hands with the Opposition.
(Edited by Rohan Manoj)
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