Minister says Shahbaz out to clinch deal as PML-N rejects claim – Pakistan

LAHORE: Railways Minis­ter Sheikh Rashid Ahmed on Saturday fuelled speculations about a possible “deal” involving the Sharif family, saying that Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) president Shahbaz Sharif was trying to “settle things with the powers that be” even though former prime minister Nawaz Sharif appeared to be “as stubborn as before”.

The PML-N promptly rejected Mr Ahmed’s claims and said whenever the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and its allies sensed the former premier could get relief from the court they start declaring that a deal is in the making.

At a press conference, the railways minister said: “The politics of Shahbaz Sharif is under a test as he strongly supports a successful dialogue in the context of a deal. But Nawaz Sharif Sahib seems inflexible… On the other hand Shahbaz is flexible and doing his best in this regard.”

Mr Ahmed said that those who had looted the country must understand that they could be arrested even in London and brought back to Pakistan.

He said the former prime minister had discussed various “important issues” during his one-to-one talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Jati Umrah.

“Before Nawaz, [former prime minister] Zafarullah Jamali too held one-to-one talks with the United States [leader]. And president Pervez Musharraf called me, asking me who had arranged the talks. I told Gen Musharraf neither me nor then foreign minister [Khurshid] Kasuri were present at the talks. This was the cause of Mr Jamali’s removal,” Mr Ahmed claimed.

He said Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam’s long march on Islamabad could turn out to be dangerous for its chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman. “I have sent a message to Maulana Fazl, through Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, to do politics but not to put his foot at a ‘hot place’. The banners and placards I have seen in Lahore show his aims and objectives. And if he will do this” he might regret it later, Mr Ahmed said.

PML-N’s stance

When asked to comment on the claims of the minister about a possible deal with the Sharif family, PML-N secretary general Ahsan Iqbal said: “The judge of the accountability court who handed down a seven-year imprisonment to Nawaz Sharif in the Al-Azizia Mills case [Arshad Malik] has become controversial and action has been taken against him by superior courts in the light of the purported video in which he claimed that he gave the verdict under pressure.

“The PTI government now sees relief for Mr Sharif as a writing on the wall because of the judge’s confession and his controversial decision. That’s why its ministers and advisers have started talking about a deal.

“The purpose is to first put pressure on the judges not to give him [Mr Sharif] relief and, secondly, in case he does get a bail it is made controversial. This is the game plan of the Imran Khan government.”

Mr Iqbal — who met the former prime minister in the Kot Lakhpat jail recently along with Shahbaz Sharif, Khawaja Asif and lawyers of the Sharif family after securing ‘a special permission’ from the Buzdar administration — added that stories about a deal were in the media only because cases against the PML-N leaders were to be decided soon by the courts on merit and the government’s “accountability wing” had no evidence against them. “This is the main worry of Mr Khan and company.”

In response to a question by Dawn about rumours of a “national government” in case the PTI-led government failed to improve its performance in the coming months, the PML-N secretary general said: “We are fast heading for a dead-end because of the poor policies of the inept government. There is an economic meltdown and it is feared that our strategic interests could be compromised because of this.

“That’s why Nawaz Sharif and the PML-N want a free and fair mid-term election in 2020 so that a new elected government could steer the country out of crisis.”

When he was asked whether or not a message from someone in the establishment had been conveyed to Mr Sharif in jail that a deal could be made under which he could leave the country along with his daughter Maryam Nawaz for a specified period, Mr Ahsan simply said his party’s supreme leader had not been approached in this regard.

Sources in the PML-N say Mr Sharif is not prepared to leave the country because as opposed to the last time he agreed to do so he has nothing to lose now.

“There was an attempt to put pressure on the former prime minister by using the emotional family card. Even Mr Sharif’s mother had been asked to convince him to leave the country. But Mr Sharif has categorically said he has nothing to lose and he will not cut a deal,” said a source.

Prime Minister Khan is said to be opposed to the idea of allowing Mr Sharif a “safe passage to a foreign country”. He has made it clear that the former premier may leave the country only under a plea bargain.

Published in Dawn, September 22nd, 2019

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