ISLAMABAD: The ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has decided to confront the report of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) with full force on “legal and political fronts”, after a seemingly worried Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif directed his legal team to prepare their response, which will be filed before the Supreme Court.
Members of PM Sharif’s ‘kitchen cabinet’ and legal advisers met the prime minster during an informal meeting, held at the Prime Minister’s House soon after the Supreme Court’s hearing on Monday, where they expressed concern over the JIT’s findings.
The leaders reposed confidence in the prime minister and advised him not to heed calls for his resignation from opposition parties.
Sources said the participants received a comprehensive briefing from members of the legal team, including Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf Ali, counsel Khawaja Harris and Adviser to the PM on Law Barrister Zafarullah Khan, on the legal and technical aspects of the JIT report, with particular focus on the “loopholes” in it.
The participants were of the view that since the JIT report contained so many contradictions and loopholes, they should challenge it before the SC and use every possible legal option available to them to defend against charges of money laundering against Sharif family members.
PM’s legal team looking for ‘loopholes’; ministers dub report ‘Imran-nama’
Besides members of the legal team, others who participated in the meeting included Law Minister Zahid Hamid, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, Planning and Development Minister Ahsan Iqbal and Petroleum Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. The sources said Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan also joined the meeting briefly. Before coming to the PM House, the sources said, Mr Dar met the interior minister at the Punjab House to discuss possible scenarios in the wake of the report’s release.
The two men particularly discussed the registration of an FIR against the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan on the orders of the apex court.
Planning and Development Minister Ahsan Iqbal told Dawn that the legal team had been asked to carry out a complete “post-mortem” of the report before the next such meeting, expected to be held today (Tuesday).
But the minister rejected the impression that the PML-N leadership was worried or perturbed over the development, saying that they were well-prepared since they expected such a report from the JIT.
Later, speaking at a news conference at the Press Information Department (PID), federal ministers Khawaja Asif, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Ahsan Iqbal and PM’s adviser Barrister Zafarullah Khan pointed out a number of technical and legal loopholes in the JIT report, expressing the hope that the Supreme Court would also throw it into the dustbin.
Rejecting the JIT’s findings, the PML-N leaders said the report was merely based on the allegations levelled against the Sharif family by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan.
Objecting to the composition of the JIT, Mr Iqbal said their “opponents” had been appointed as investigators and the JIT had followed a certain “political agenda” during the course of its work.
“The JIT report has proven that all our reservations about its conduct and proceedings were true,” the minister said. The report, he said, focused on the Sharif family’s personal businesses rather than mismanagement or corruption while holding public office.
“This report should be called an Imran-nama,” the minister said, accusing the PTI of hatching a conspiracy against the government to hinder the country’s development and said the report had been compiled to benefit “one political party”.
“We will expose the contradictions and lies contained in the report and tear it down,” the minister declared. Instead of finding the answers to the 13 questions, as directed by the Supreme Court, he said the JIT acted as a “trial court” with a “political agenda”.
Barrister Zafarullah said that four of the six JIT members had no prior experience of handling legal investigations and were completely unaware of the Qanoon-i-Shahadat (Law of Evidence).
Barrister Zafarullah also declared the alleged phonetapping of PML-N members and other personalities by the JIT “a criminal offence”.
He categorically denied the impression the JIT had recommended filing a reference against the Sharifs with the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). “We have not seen any such thing in the concluding remarks of the report,” he said.
Defence Minister Khawaja Asif claimed that nothing in the report could be verified or viewed as admissible evidence, since it was predicated on “source-based information”.
“The JIT report has relied heavily on the statements of [former interior minister] Rehman Malik,” he said, adding that the party would “demolish every allegation raised in the report, one by one”.
Responding to a question, Mr Asif refuted reports that the party leadership was thinking of replacing PM Sharif, claiming that no such thing was ever discussed.
Published in Dawn, July 11th, 2017