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LAHORE: An outspoken federal minister on Saturday warned Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chairman Imran Khan that he wouldn’t get anything either if the democratic set-up was packed up, an assertion that has triggered all kinds of conspiracy theories in the midst of the political upheaval caused by the Panama Papers case.

Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique was, however, adamant that if the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz was shown the door “unnaturally”, it would return to power even stronger in the next election. He then connected this to just how essential a free judiciary was to Pakistan today, saying the country could not progress if the “judiciary is not independent and impartial”.

Of the firebrand material PML-N has at its disposal, Khawaja Saad Rafique has a reputation for being the go-to man in moments of sheer desperation. For instance, he was at his most candid when Imran Khan and his wards were about to enter Islamabad in the climax to last year’s long march on the capital.

His warnings to the ‘hidden hands’ now are openly being linked with a PML-N fear of the possibility of an adverse outcome in the Panama Papers case.

Saad says Imran will be responsible if democracy ‘packed up’; PTI says JIT poses no threat to system

“What is Nawaz Sharif’s crime? We have not been allowed to perform freely during the last four years,” the railways minister said with a full head of steam, before he steadied himself to give their arch-rival some earnest advice.

“Imran Khan must understand the sensitivity of the situation… he will be responsible for the consequences. Playing the disqualification game is like playing with fire,” he warned.

He said that Pakistan could not move forward without democracy. “Those who do not like our faces must rethink; can’t they wait another 11 months [for the 2018 election]? The snakes of the Islamabad sit-in are wounded, but not eliminated,” he thundered.

Lauding the role of former army chief retired Gen Raheel Sharif during the sit-in, he said that “those waiting for the umpire to intervene again, let me tell him that [umpire] is the custodian of democracy and the Constitution”.

In an apparent reference to the words used by a judge of the Supreme Court to describe the prime minster and his party, Mr Rafique said: “Words such as ‘godfather’ and ‘Sicilian mafia’ hurt us. Such words should not be used [for a political party]... or a leader who is delivering for the country.”

Recalling the “great role” of the PML-N in the restoration of the judiciary during the previous Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) regime, he claimed: “Today, once again, a conspiracy is being hatched and preference is being given to a minority. We cannot be thrown out just like that,” he bellowed, advising the PTI to take a leaf out of the PML-N and PPP’s Charter of Democracy.

As if his message was still incomplete, the minister also questioned the manner in which the joint investigation team (JIT) probing allegations of money laundering against the Sharif family. “What kind of justice this is? Who leaked the picture of Hussain Nawaz and what was the WhatsApp call controversy? Our reservations are not being addressed; the JIT seems to have been tasked to just catch fish,” he claimed.

Mr Khan’s team, which has maintained that their crusade is not against democracy, rather a bid to expose the Sharifs’ corruption, can hardly suppress its delight at these outbursts and threats emanating from the PML-N camp.

In fact, the PTI was also quite happy to respond to Mr Rafique’s remarks on Saturday.

Responding to the pugnacious minister’s outburst, PTI Information Secretary Shafqat Mahmood said: “Raising a voice against those who have looted national wealth is not a conspiracy, there is no threat to democracy or the system from the JIT that is investigating money laundering by the Sharif family. Imran Khan has been saying this for the past 21 years: corruption is Pakistan’s main problem. The PTI has no personal enmity with anyone, but is fighting against the corrupt mafia.”

Reacting to Mr Rafique’s remarks, PPP Information Secretary Chaudhry Manzoor said the railways minister should stop shedding “crocodile tears” and let the Sharif family face accountability.

Published in Dawn, July 2nd, 2017