Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistan’s National Security Committee has rejected comments by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who said that Pakistanis had carried out the 2008 attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai, in another signal of the widening rift between his ruling party and the country’s powerful military.
The committee, which includes the country’s top military and civilian leadership, met in the capital Islamabad on Monday, and termed Sharif’s comments “incorrect and misleading”.
Last week, Sharif told local newspaper Dawn that Pakistan needed to act against anti-India armed groups that are operating on its soil, a claim India has often made and which Pakistan has long officially denied.
“Militant organisations are active. Call them non-state actors, should we allow them to cross the border and kill 150 people in Mumbai?” said Sharif, referring to the 2008 attacks, in which at least 160 people were killed by gunmen in attacks on hotels and transportation infrastructure in the Indian business hub.
“It’s absolutely unacceptable. This is exactly what we are struggling for. [Russian] President Putin has said it. [Chinese] President Xi has said it.”
The comments from Sharif, who was dismissed as prime minister by the Supreme Court in July over corruption allegations, riled political opponents and the military, although senior Pakistani officials have made similar comments in the past.
Indian media seized upon the comments as proof that Pakistan has backed armed groups to attack targets in India. No official statements have been made, however, by India’s foreign or interior ministries.
“The participants observed that it was very unfortunate that the opinion arising out of either misconceptions or grievances was being presented in disregard of concrete facts and realities,” said a statement following the Pakistani NSC meeting on Monday.
“The participants unanimously rejected the allegations and condemned the fallacious assertions,” it added.
On Monday, Sharif stuck to his guns, telling a political rally in the northern town of Buner that a commission should be formed to probe his statement.
“What have I said in the interview that was wrong?” he responded to reporters earlier in the day, when asked if he stood by the statement.
Pakistani security forces have been battling the Pakistani Taliban and its allies, including al-Qaeda, in the country’s northwest since 2007.
A series of military operations have displaced the Taliban from their former strongholds in the country’s northwestern tribal districts, but sporadic attacks continue to happen.
Pakistan has come under pressure from the United States and India to do more, however, to shut down groups such as the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e-Taiba, which target US forces in Afghanistan or Indian forces in the disputed region of Kashmir.
Pakistan denies that it offers sanctuary to those groups, with the military saying its operations have been directed indiscriminately against all armed groups.
However, groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is banned as a “terrorist organisation” under Pakistani law, continue to fundraise and carry out political and humanitarian aid activities across the country.
In February, Pakistan was placed on a “grey list” by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a 35-member alliance aimed at curbing money laundering and the financing of armed groups.
It faces sanctions if it does not implement reforms by this summer.
Sharif’s own party distanced itself from his comments on Sunday, with a spokesperson saying it was “grossly misinterpreted by Indian media”.
Shehbaz Sharif, Nawaz’s brother and the party’s presumptive prime ministerial candidate in the July general election, went even further, saying the party rejected the comments outright.
“PML-N rejects all assertions, direct or implied, made in news report of Dawn,” he tweeted. “State of Pakistan [and] all its institutions stand together in the global fight against terrorism.”
Other parties, too, criticised the three-time prime minister’s comments.
Addressing a press conference on Monday, opposition PTI chief Imran Khan demanded that the former prime minister be tried for treason, and that PML-N leader Shahid Khaqan Abbasi resign as prime minister.
“[Nawaz Sharif] has hurt the national interests of Pakistan,” he said.
The opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) party also slammed the former prime minister for implying that Pakistan allowed the attacks to happen.
“If you suggest the [government] “allowed” any action against another country then [you are] suggesting official complicity,” said PPP Senator Sherry Rehman. “Painful to see such talk from a former PM either calculated to divert attention or just casual chatter.”
Sharif’s embattled PML-N party, facing a number of desertions and corruption charges against its senior leadership, will take on the PTI, PPP and others in a general election in July.
A verdict in a high-profile corruption case against Sharif and his family members is due next month.
Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s Digital Correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim