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Defiant PM looks to next election for vindication

By Malik Asad 2017-06-16
ISLAMABAD: A defiant Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Thursday warned his opponents that national security and the rule of law could be threatened if `agenda-driven conspiracy factories were not closed down`.

He also predicted that the next general election would yield a `JIT of 200 million people`, and was confident that the electorate would vindicate his position by re-electing his party with an even bigger margin than in 2013.

Speaking to reporters after his much-anticipated appearance before the joint investigation team (JIT), constituted to probe money laundering allegations against his family, the prime minister made it clear that his presence there reaffirmed the principle that no one not even a prime minster was above the law.

`This country has already paid dearly for conspiracies and intrigues... The time of the hidden hand is long gone; now, puppet masters can no longer play their games. I want to say a lot more, and I will say more in the days to come,` he said.

PM Sharif told reporters that in his nearly three-hour interview, he had presented his point of view to the JIT. `The details of my assets are already available with the relevant institutions, as wellas the Supreme Court,` he said, adding that he provided these documents to the JIT once again.

The prime minster claimed that after the Panama Papers scandalsurfaced,he had offeredto constitute a judicial commission to probe the allegations.

`Had this offer not become the victim of political conspiracies, a probe could have been completed months ago,` he said.`The process of my accountability stretches from before my birth and extends to my future generations. Has any other family in the country faced such ruthless accountability?` PMSharif asked.

He recalled how his f amily had been facing accountability under their political opponents from the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government`s nationalisa-tion of Sharif assets to retired GenPervezMusharraf`sattempts to seize the family`s holdings.

`Even Musharraf could not find any evidence and was forced to implicate me in a fake plane hijacking case,` he mused.

The prime minister appeared to be at pains to point out that the allegations being probed had nothing to do with corruption or any embezzlement from the national exchequer. `The JIT is probing allegations related to the Sharif family`s personal businesses,` he said.

`The JIT will soon submit its report to the Supreme Court, after which the court would pass an appropriate order,` he said, but warned his opponents there was an even bigger forum awaiting them, come next year.

`A JIT of 200 million people the people`s court. We all have to present ourselves before them,` he said, referring to next year`s general elections.

`God willing, the people will also [vote us back in power] by a margin bigger than even 2013.

He concluded with the parting remark: `You must have a lot of questions and I have a lot to say, but let`s leave that for another time`.

An unprecedented event This, the ñrst appearance by a situng prime minister before an investigating body, was by no means an ordinary event and most arrangements for PM Sharif`s arrival at the Federal Judicial Academy had been made beforehand.

Before setting off from PM House, the prime minister met the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leadership, a number of whom then accompanied him on his trip to the JIT`s secretariat.

His daughter, Maryam Nawaz Sharif, posted a number of photos on her Twitter account that showed the prime minister posing confidently along with some of his closest aides.

Unlike routine practice, the prime minster did not travel with his tradi-tional protocol and arrived at the FJA with an entourage of only three SUVs.

His route was also not blocked to traf fic, although law enforcement agencies had put up blockades and barbed wire in the vicinity of the FJA.

A number of close family members and aides accompanied the prime minister to the JIT`s doorstep, but not everyone was allowed inside. Hussain Nawaz, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and his son Hamza Shahbaz arrived with the PM, along with aides Fawad Hassan Fawad and Asif Kirmani. Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Defence Minsiter Khawaja Asif, Deputy Speaker Murtaza Abbasi and retired Capt Mohammad Safdar, the PM`s son-in-law, were also in tow.

However, police stopped federal ministers and PML-N activists some 500 yards from the building.

When the PM entered the FJA premises, he looked confident and waved to the cameras before heading inside, no doubt buoyed by the encouragement from his all the well-wishers who accompanied him.

But when he emerged from the interview, the PM looked slightly agitated, but his tone was defiant. The constant allusions to the imminent general election and his confidence that the PML-N would return to power with an even bigger mandate, however, betrayed a certain level of confidence that the current investigation would not pose a concrete threat to his party`s chances of re-election.