LAHORE: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Saturday said it was up to the chief justice of Pakistan to change or amend the terms of reference (ToRs) for a probe into the Panama Papers leaks as he followed a busy schedule in his hometown a day ahead of an important rally announced by his political rival Imran Khan.
In the face of insistent journalists, the prime minister refused to comment on the relationship between his government and the military right at this moment and he looked poised to fight his case on the basis of the development schemes he has undertaken, and not just in the name of the continuation of democracy.
Imran Khan and his PTI are scheduled to hold a show of strength in front of the Punjab Assembly on Sunday (today). The rally is being tipped by the PTI supporters as the start of a grand campaign to dislodge the Sharif government. Following the old tradition many commentators are linking the fate of the government to its ties with the military high command.
The Panama leaks that ‘revealed’ the presence of offshore companies held by the children of the prime minister among others have provided considerable impetus to the latest opposition push against the government.
The PTI has rejected a Supreme Court commission to probe the leaks, strongly contesting the ToRs the government has proposed for the commission. The PTI, as also various other voices, says the commission is a ploy to delay a real investigation into the matter.
However, on Saturday the prime minister, accompanied by senior government ministers, provided a glimpse of how he is going to defend his government against the present charge.
As Mr Sharif sat facing a group of senior journalists, he tried to avoid the desperate tone that had marked some of his initial reactions in the wake of the Panama leaks and the opposition accusations over it. Apart from occasional short, curt references to Mr Khan’s brand of politics, the prime minister by and large concentrated on highlighting the achievements and goals of his government, which is to complete its third year later this month.
It is rare for even a prime ministerial luncheon in Lahore to gather so many stars at one place — governmental, party and family, not to speak of the kings among the opinion-makers. Mr Sharif was aided in his effort by presentations by senior federal bureaucrats and two of his ministers, Khwaja Saad Rafiq and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.
There were other ministers present to add to the importance of this particular weekend visit by Mr Sharif, with Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif talking his post to his left in a manifestation of just how crucial these times are.
Also in attendance was the governor. There was Hamza Shahbaz — dubbed as the second most important man in Punjab — who had Captain Muhammad Safdar, Mr Nawaz Sharif’s son-in-law, sitting next to him, just in case there was a need to come up with a statement about the unity in the family.
The focus of Mr Sharif’s speech, as well as the general thrust of his statements in the city during the day was on celebrating his government’s achievements in the areas mainly of energy and road infrastructure, with a brief but proud reference to the re-birth of the Pakistan Railways.
Fresh from a top-level meeting on Saturday morning that assessed some key development projects by his government, the prime minister claimed to have made unprecedented strides towards overcoming the electricity shortfall.
According to a presentation by the secretary of the ministry of power, there will be no loadshedding in January 2018, even though the official stopped short of giving any projections about the availability of electricity and demand for the summer of the same year.
Similarly, figures were given to show how the crisis of gas shortage had been dealt with and what efforts were on to overcome the problem completely in the coming few years.
Another presentation showed the speed with which the government was pursuing its ideal of providing a reliable road network in the country and beyond, connecting it with China through a highway that will link Gwadar with Khunjerab.
Prime Minister Sharif told the media corps these were positive stories which awaited their attention, but he did offer his guests some other threads to report on.
Right to rule?
Unlike some rulers in recent years, Mr Sharif was not prepared to take the simple plea that he must continue in power to save democracy.
He was there asserting his right to rule on the basis of his work. He reminded Imran Khan he could not get power just because he thought that it was his turn to rule.
He rather sought to steal a PPP refrain on another count by maintaining that among all families in Pakistan, the Sharifs’ were the worst ever hit in the name of accountability. This is where he drew a parallel between Z.A. Bhutto’s execution in 1979 and the ‘forced’ exile of the Sharif family two decades later.
The prime minister spoke emphatically how not a single case of corruption could ever be proven against his family — which has been in business since the 1930s and in politics since the 1970s.
He agreed that whereas mega projects such as the orange train in Lahore were essential, the government needed to be fully aware of the basic problems the people were confronted with in their everyday lives. He gave the example of the recent increase in the prices of pulses, which an official present on the occasion ascribed to a fall in yield this season because of the weather. It was clarified the increase in the prices of pulses sold at the government-run utility stores had been withdrawn on the prime minister’s intervention.
Published in Dawn, May 1st, 2016