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Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif presides over a meeting of the cabinet on Thursday. Criticising the JIT report, the premier said it was a compilation of allegations and assumptions about his family businesses.—INP
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif presides over a meeting of the cabinet on Thursday. Criticising the JIT report, the premier said it was a compilation of allegations and assumptions about his family businesses.—INP

ISLAMABAD: In his first direct response to the calls of opposition parties for his resignation after the release of the report of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) in the Panama Papers case, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Thursday categorically declared that he would not step down.

“Should I resign at the whim of anti-democracy conspirators? Why should I resign and on what basis?” he said amid desk-thumping by his colleagues in the cabinet, including members from allied parties.

The cabinet approved a 64-point agenda within no time and the members spent most of the time reviewing the report of the six-member JIT constituted by the Supreme Court in April to probe money laundering allegations against the Sharif family.

Meanwhile, the prime minister has convened a meeting of the PML-N parliamentary party in the National Assembly and the Senate on Friday. Sources said that after seeking confidence of the cabinet, he would now seek trust of the party lawmakers to dispel an impression regarding division within the party.

Cabinet endorses decision to challenge JIT report; allies extend support; PML-N parliamentary party meets today

After the cabinet meeting, the PM House released some quotes of the prime minister from his speech, which were aired by TV channels, including the state-run Pakistan Television.

Rejecting the demand for his resignation, Mr Sharif pointed out that the PML-N had secured more votes in the last general elections than the collective votes of the parties demanding his resignation.

He said his family members appeared before the JIT without any hesitation to uphold the supremacy of the Constitution and the law.

He said his family had been doing businesses since 1937 — long before they joined politics. “Our family has gained nothing from politics — rather it has lost a lot.”

Mr Sharif said the JIT report was a compilation of “allegations and assumptions” about his family businesses and the investigators had failed to charge him with corruption or misuse of public money during his different stints as prime minister and Punjab chief minister since 1985.

During the last four years, he said, his government had launched a number of mega projects worth billions of rupees, but no wrongdoing had ever been proved.

He called for bringing an end to conspiracies against the country’s development, saying “Pakistan has already paid a heavy price in the past for such dramas”. He said those who had been trying to create disruption in the country in the name of election rigging, corruption and Panama Papers would remain unsuccessful.

One of the participants of the cabinet meeting told Dawn that besides ministers belonging to the ruling party, the members of other coalition parties also endorsed the prime minister’s decision to not resign and the PML-N’s stance to challenge the JIT report before the Supreme Court.

Prominent among those who spoke during the meeting were Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafiq, Safron Minister Abdul Qadir Baloch, Adviser to the PM on National Heritage Irfan Siddiqui and Adviser to the PM on Aviation Mahtab Ahmed Khan.

The sources said the interior minister lauded the prime minister for presenting himself and his family for accountability, but warned that the party should exercise caution while handling the situation that had arisen after the release of the JIT report.

Interestingly, when a private TV channel, considered to have sympathies with the government, reported that Chaudhry Nisar in the meeting praised the government for maintaining transparency and said the prime minister would come out of the crisis successfully, the interior minister sent a strongly worded rebuttal.

In his rebuttal, Chaudhry Nisar denied the news report and said what he had stated in the meeting was “opposite” of what the channel reported.

Ports and Shipping Minster Hasil Bizenjo of the National Party, Housing Minister Akram Durrani of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (Fazl) and Murtaza Jatoi of the National People’s Party made brief speeches and expressed support for the prime minister on behalf of their parties.

Earlier, the cabinet members were briefed on major “discrepancies and shortcomings” in the JIT report on the basis of which the Sharif family would challenge the JIT findings before the court next week. The briefing was given by Adviser to the PM on Law Barrister Zafarullah Khan.

The cabinet also approved a number of agreements and memoranda of understanding with different countries in various fields.

Sources said after the cabinet meeting, the prime minister held another informal meeting with the members of his “kitchen cabinet” and legal team. It was the fourth such meeting in as many days.

Mr Bizenjo also held a separate meeting with the PM after the cabinet meeting to discuss issues related to his ministry and review the current political situation.

Published in Dawn, July 14th, 2017