Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s “legs were shaking” when he told a meeting last year that India would attack if Indian pilot Abhinandan Varthaman, shot down in a dogfight, was not returned, a Pakistani opposition lawmaker has said.
Former speaker Ayaz Sadiq, a senior leader of the main opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) who was at one time close to Prime Minister Imran Khan, made the revelation while speaking in the National Assembly or Lower House of Pakistan’s Parliament on Wednesday.
Sadiq was responding to accusations by a member of the ruling Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) party that the former PML-N government had not properly handled national security issues, such as the case of former Indian Navy officer Kulbhushan Jadhav, who was detained by Pakistani authorities in 2016 on charges of espionage.
“In the case of Abhinandan, I remember Shah Mahmood Qureshi was in that meeting which the prime minister refused to attend and the chief of army staff joined us – his [Qureshi’s] legs were shaking and there was sweat on his brow,” Sadiq said, speaking in Urdu.
“And Shah Mahmood Qureshi told us, ‘For God’s sake let this man [Abhinandan] go back because at 9pm on that night, India will carry out an attack on Pakistan’,” he said, talking of a meeting of government officials with parliamentary leaders held sometime after Abhinandan was shot on February 27, 2019 amid an India-Pakistan standoff.
“But India wasn’t going to attack, nothing was going to happen. But they were going to kneel down and send back Abhinandan, and they did it,” Sadiq said, adding that the ruling PTI shouldn’t level such allegations as this would force the opposition to disclose “such things”.
The remarks sparked a strong political reaction in India, with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president JP Nadda highlighting the fear of an Indian retaliation weighing heavy on the Pakistan government, and blaming Congress president Rahul Gandhi for allegedly questioning the Indian military.
Sadiq did not offer more details during his brief speech in the National Assembly but subsequently told Dunya News channel that the Opposition would be forced to respond if those in power referred to it as “Modi ka yaar” (friend of PM Narendra Modi).
He told the channel that Qureshi made the remarks at a meeting where parliamentary leaders, including those of PML-N and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), were present. Sadiq also said the opposition had supported the PTI government on all issues, including Kashmir and Abhinandan, but it would no longer be appropriate to provide further support.
Tensions between India and Pakistan had spiked following a suicide attack by the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) at Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir on February 14, 2019 that killed 40 troops.
India retaliated by carrying out an air strike on a JeM base at Balakot in Pakistan, and this was followed by an aerial engagement along the Line of Control (LoC) that resulted in the shooting down of an Indian combat jet piloted by Abhinandan Varthaman.
The immediate tensions eased after Pakistan freed Abhinandan on March 1, 2019, but relations between the two countries continue to be at an all-time low. India has maintained that there cannot be any dialogue with Pakistan till the neighbouring country stops backing cross-border terror.
Nadda on Thursday referred to Sadiq’s speech and said it showed how Islamabad, was forced to release Varthaman fearing an attack from New Delhi, and lashed out against the Congress for “mocking the armed forces”.
“Congress princeling does not believe anything Indian, be it our Army, our Government, our Citizens. So, here is something from his ‘Most Trusted Nation’, Pakistan. Hopefully now he sees some light…” Nadda tweeted in a jibe at Rahul Gandhi.
“Congress Party premised it’s entire campaign around keeping our armed forces weak. They mocked our armed forces, questioned their valour and tried every trick to ensure India doesn’t get latest Rafale Planes. The people India rejected such politics and punished Congress,” he said in another tweet.
As Sadiq’s remarks were played up in India, he issued a video statement in which he claimed the Indian media “distorted my statement and played with the words in an attempt to change it”. He suggested he had meant that Prime Minister Khan’s “legs were shaking and he was perspiring as he couldn’t face the opposition”.
He said, “What was their thinking, which country they were taking dictation from, were they directly in contact with Modi, was there any other pressure on them – they didn’t think it fit to share with us and they came and said that we have to immediately release Abhinandan.”
Sadiq added: “What was the reasoning, only Imran Khan knows and no one else in Pakistan knows this. His decision was completely wrong.”