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ISLAMABAD: The country’s main opposition parties on Sunday denounced the threat by the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) that it would not accept the joint investigation team’s (JIT) report as “a direct attack on the Supreme Court”.

Reacting to Saturday’s news conference by four federal ministers, the leaders of the two main opposition parties — the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) — said that since the former Qatari prime minister was a “defence witness”, it was the responsibility of the Sharifs to produce him before the JIT.

But while Imran Khan’s PTI believes that there is no need to record the statement of Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al-Thani after the expiry of the 60-day deadline for the JIT, the PPP has suggested that if the former Qatari premier wished to record his statement via video link, he had to do so from the Pakistani embassy at Doha, not from his palace.

Opposition parties alleged that the PML-N ministers spoke at Saturday’s news conference out of desperation, since they knew that the Supreme Court was going to disqualify the Sharifs after their failure to prove the money trail for the Park Lane apartments.

Imran calls for ‘decisive battle’; PPP says onus of producing ex-Qatari PM was on the Sharifs

Federal ministers Khawaja Asif, Khawaja Saad Rafique, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Ahsan Iqbal had declared a day earlier that the PML-N would not accept the JIT report if investigators did not record the statement of the Qatari sheikh, whose letters were submitted by the Sharifs in support of their claims about the setting up of offshore companies and the purchase of the London properties.

The ministers had also called for the proceedings of the JIT to be made public through the release of all the audio and video records of its interrogations, a demand that opposition parties support.

While the PPP has already demanded that JIT proceedings be made public, PTI chief Imran Khan also endorsed the demand, saying his party had been demanding from day one that JIT proceedings should be open to the media.

PTI’s call

Speaking at a news conference outside his Banigala residence on Sunday, Mr Khan called on civil society and the lawyers’ community to start preparing for a “decisive battle” for the future of Pakistan in the wake of PML-N’s “threats” to the judiciary.

Mr Khan said that since the JIT had only been formed to hold investigations and submit its report to the Supreme Court, the PML-N’s threat that it would not accept the JIT report was actually “a direct attack on the SC”.

He alleged that the PML-N was planning to attack the Supreme Court, as it had already ruined all national institutions, merely to protect the “corruption of the Sharif family”.

“I am calling on you (the public) to save our SC. Be ready. I am also calling on civil society and the lawyers. The battle for the future of the country is about to begin,” he said.

“We will see what happens tomorrow (Monday). I have been preparing my party since the (ministers’) press conference,” declared Mr Khan, who had earlier threatened to launch a mass movement against the government, if the rulers made any attempt to attack the JIT or the Supreme Court.

Calling the ministers “fools”, Mr Khan said the ministers should know that the verdict was to be announced by the SC and not the JIT.

He said if Sheikh Al-Thani could come to Pakistan on business and to hunt, why couldn’t he visit to record his statement before the JIT?

“Were they unaware two months ago that the Qatari letter would become scrap without [the sheikh’s] appearance before the court?” the PTI chief asked.

“Why didn’t they ask him to appear earlier?” And now, he said, one day before the report is to be submitted to the SC, the PML-N leaders are raising a hue and cry.

Mr Khan urged the apex court to order Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to step down and called for PM Sharif’s name to be placed on the exit control list (ECL).

The PTI chief said he had seen various members of the Sharif family smiling and waving to cameras upon their arrival at the Federal Judicial Academy (FJA), but later all emerged with long faces.

He said the Sharif family members knew the JIT had reached a point where PM Sharif was going to be disqualified, which was why they were now saying that they would not accept the court’s verdict.

He said if there was genuine democracy in the country, the PML-N should have nominated someone else as prime minister, to save the system.

PPP’s view

The PPP also denounced the PML-N ministers to reject the JIT’s report if it failed to record the evidence of the Qatari sheikh.

In a statement, PPP spokesperson Farhatullah Babar said the latest outbursts by the federal ministers, rejecting the JIT before it had even finalised its report, strengthened the perception that the PML-N was hell bent on rejecting the JIT report, regardless of whether the former Qatari prime minister appeared before it or not.

Mr Babar said the burden of producing its witness before the investigation team or court would have to be borne by the ruling family.

He said the ministers had given the examples of former military dictator General Pervez Musharaf and Mark Siegel, whose statements were recorded via video link.

However, he noted that Gen Musharraf was quizzed at his home, which had been declared a sub-jail, while Mark Siegel had recorded his statement via video link from the Pakistani embassy in Washington DC.

If the Qatari royal wished to record his statement via video conferencing, he has to do so from the Pakistani embassy in Doha, and it is the responsibility of the respondents to ensure that he does so, Mr Babar said.

Separately, speaking to reporters from his Rawalpindi residence, Awami Muslim League (AML) chief Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said the whole nation was waiting for a decision in the Panama Papers case. He praised the JIT members for continuing to work without succumbing to pressure and said he would accept the court’s verdict, even if it was not in the opposition’s favour.

Published in Dawn, July 10th, 2017