Post-Shahbaz bail scenario: Will political confrontation subside?

February 18, 2019

ISLAMABAD : Will the official mantra of thieves, looters and plunderers dwindle after the grant of bails to Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif and several accused...

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ISLAMABAD : Will the official mantra of thieves, looters and plunderers dwindle after the grant of bails to Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif and several accused persons of the Punjab Saaf Pani Company by the Lahore High Court (LHC), which found no traces of corruption in these cases?

“On our part, it was clear even before the acceptance of these bail pleas that accountability and victimisation must be differentiated,” Prime Minister’s spokesman Nadim Afzal Chan told The News when contacted. “Nobody can cite even a single case that has been instituted by this government against any opposition leader. There is no ill-treatment of any senior or junior member of the bureaucracy who closely worked with the previous government,” he said.

Asked whether the political confrontation will subside in the post-Shahbaz Sharif bail scenario, Chan said it all depends on policy of the opposition parties. “Despite severe views, we have been accommodating the opposition like for example we made Shahbaz Sharif the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) with a view to quiet down the situation.”

He said that as far as the government is concerned, it expects and hopes that unnecessary tussle ends and sanity prevails. However, the opposition has its own standpoint. “If the government wants that we should shun protest altogether in the parliament, it is a mistaken expectation. It is our job to agitate against official policies, full of venom, malice and bias. We will continue to play our role,” senior Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Rana Sanaullah told The News. Before exhorting the opposition to calm down, he said, the government should rein in some of its cabinet ministers, who cross all levels of decency while attacking their rivals. “It is the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which has introduced this culture in politics.”

Rana Sanaullah said that the grant of bails to Shahbaz Sharif and Saaf Pani Company accused have proved the PML-N’s repeated stand that only witch-hunting was going on and there was nothing substantial against its leaders, who had been kept in jails for a long time. “The bails were given by the high court and were not granted because of any courtesy of the government.”

Chan said Prime Minister Imran Khan wants to regularly attend the National Assembly proceedings and answer questions as promised, but could not because of the opposition parties’ deafening protest and disruptions.

“The premier wishes to speak in detail on the floor of the parliament on domestic and foreign policy issues, and matters relating to the Pashtun Tahuffaz Movement, health, poverty alleviation, and economic conditions and the fundamental changes he is bringing about in every sphere. He wants debates on these issues. No worthwhile speech can be made and no meaningful discussion can take place if interruptions and disturbances are caused,” the spokesman said.

When pointed out that a set of hawkish ministers are fueling political tensions through their fiery statements, Chan said that nobody should ignore the conciliatory behaviours of a number of key cabinet members including Pervaiz Khattack, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Ali Muhammad Khan and Shafqat Mehmood as well as Speaker Asad Qaisar. “Every party and organisation has a mix of different elements. If political calm is to prevail, importance has to be given to those having a positive thinking instead of according any relevance to those having a negative approach.”

The chants of thieves, looters and plunderers by some ministers have often marred the political atmosphere, provoking the opposition to strike back. However, the refrain received a serious jolt after the LHC bailed out Shahbaz Sharif. The pressure and sorrow felt by the government because of this bail was echoed by Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry when he said that “not only he but the whole nation is dismayed” over the development.

One of the major objections of the hawks to the opposition leader’s continuation as the PAC chairman was that despite being in the NAB custody, he was staying in the ministers’ enclave, enjoying elaborate official security, presiding over the PAC meetings. They had been pressurising him to call it quits. However, all these elements are silent after the grant of bail to Shahbaz Sharif and there are no demands of his voluntary resignation. It was also announced that Shahbaz Sharif would be voted out as the PAC chairman, but the opposition parties angrily reacted and threatened to jam the parliament if he was shown the door. Consequently, the campaign has apparently abated.

Chan said that despite the acceptance of Shahbaz Sharif’s bail request by the LHC, the offences he is facing are still there and he will be tried for them. The spokesman said that it was for the NAB and not for the government to oppose the bail plea. He said the government has not interfered with the NAB proceedings and even some of its own key members were facing the investigations.

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