ISLAMABAD: With Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan holding his cards close to his chest, all eyes are set on a press conference he has announced he will address on Sunday (today).

TV channels reported that federal ministers Saad Rafiq, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Rana Tanvir Hussain met Chaudhry Nisar on Saturday to persuade him to cancel his press conference where, the channels claimed, he would announce an end to his 35-year association with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

This was the only news report about him in recent days that was not rebutted by the interior ministry.

Interior minister is reported to have been unhappy with the way some PML-N leaders handled Panama Papers crisis

When contacted, a spokesman for the minister said he had seen none of the ministers coming to Punjab House to hold a meeting with Chaudhry Nisar.

Mr Abbasi said he had not held a meeting with the interior minister on Saturday to convince him to change his plan. Giving his personal assessment, he said there were no differences in the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) and Mr Nisar “is going nowhere”.

The interior minister attended a meeting of the federal cabinet on July 13 where members of the cabinet reposed confidence in the PM’s leadership. But he skipped two important meetings of the PML-N after that.

While many members of the cabinet kept on issuing vociferous statements against the Joint Investigation Team constituted in the Panama Papers case and some even indirectly uttered remarks against the judiciary, Chaudhry Nisar was not among the crowd as he chose to remain silent on the issue at the height of the controversy.

However, rebuttals and clarifications kept coming from his spokesman’s office, advising rumour mills to stop churning out baseless reports about him.

The first clarification came on July 12 contradicting reports about his meeting with Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. The spokesman for the minister, Muhammad Aslam, said Chaudhry Nisar had not held a meeting with Shahbaz Sharif during the last two days and asked the media to seek confirmation before airing such reports.

The very next day, another contradiction was issued about remarks attributed to him during a cabinet meeting by a TV channel. “It is inappropriate and against journalistic norms to put words never uttered by him in the mouth of the interior minister,” a statement issued by the spokesman said. He said what the minister had said was on the record and was entirely different from what had been reported.

But as guesswork continued and his reported remarks in the cabinet meeting became a hot topic of discussion in TV talk shows, on July 14 another statement from Mr Nisar’s office warned against uncalled-for hearsay and unrealistic comments. The interior ministry’s spokesman said neither had there been any bitterness during the cabinet meeting nor Chaudhry Nisar had staged a walkout from the meeting.

The day the statement came, the minister did not attend a meeting of the parliamentary party of the PML-N. The spokesman, however, said the minister could not attend the meeting owing to his personal engagements. He said the minister had previously also not attended several parliamentary party meetings and that his absence should not be given a wrong colour. He said the minister would hold a press conference in a few days to apprise the media of his point of view on the prevailing situation.

On July 15, Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal, during a TV programme, tried to dispel the impression that there were differences within the PML-N. He said the entire cabinet had reposed confidence in the prime minister’s leadership. He quoted Mr Nisar as saying during the cabinet meeting that loyalty was his most precious asset during his political journey spread over 35 years.

Shortly after the programme, a hard-hitting statement came from the interior minister saying the cabinet member should desist from issuing wrong and unrealistic statements over his speech in the cabinet meeting. “The interior minister has not said what a cabinet colleague continues to repeat and attribute to him,” the statement said.

The statement said unfortunately these wrong statements were coming from those ministers who were responsible for the crucial situation the government was faced with.

On Friday (July 21) rumours about Chaudhry Nisar’s decision to resign as federal minister continued to do the rounds, but the interior ministry spokesman again denied the reports as incorrect. “What the minister will say in his press conference will be known only on the day he addresses it,” he said. The spokesman also asked those citing sources close to the minister to identify the sources.

Some TV channels kept on reporting on Saturday that efforts made by Shahbaz Sharif and others to contact Chaudhry Nisar had failed and that he may quit as minister of interior.

But this time the minister and his spokesman chose not to comment and allowed the guesswork to continue till his press conference.

Published in Dawn, July 23rd, 2017