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ISLAMABAD: Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan on Sunday postponed his much-awaited and much-anticipated news conference for a day, citing medical reasons.

Hours before his scheduled news conference, a spokesman for the interior ministry announced that Chaudhry Nisar would not be able to hold the press conference due to “illness”.

Due to extreme backache, the minister had been advised complete rest, the spokesman said, adding that the news conference would now be held at 5pm on Monday (today).

He also requested the media to avoid “speculations” and reading too much between the lines, claiming that the news conference had been delayed “solely because of the minister’s bad health”.

The minister’s news conference has acquired great political significance amid conflicting reports about his differences with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leadership over the handling of the situation in the aftermath of the release of the report of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) which probed the money laundering allegations against the Sharif family.

The report was submitted to the Supreme Court on July 10.

Some media reports claimed that Chaudhry Nisar had decided to quit the ministry as he had been upset for over one month for not being consulted by the party leadership while discussing the strategy to deal with the situation developed after the JIT report which accused the Sharif family of forging documents and concealing assets and businesses.

On Saturday, TV channels reported that three federal ministers had made a number of failed attempts to persuade Chaudhry Nisar to cancel his press conference where 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, thus giving credence to the reports that he had made up his mind to resign from the ministry.

Interestingly, the PML-N members, including federal ministers, were found to be very cautious while commenting on the issue, saying that they could not make any comment due to “unpredictable and mysterious” personality of Chaudhry Nisar.

When contacted, the PML-N leaders said they were not aware of the real issue between the interior minister and the Sharifs. Secondly, they added, it would be better for them to keep quiet on the matter after seeing Chaudhry Nisar’s harsh reaction to an apparently non-controversial statement by Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal.

During a TV programme on July 15, Mr Iqbal had tried to dispel the impression that there were differences within the PML-N, saying the entire cabinet had reposed confidence in the prime minister’s leadership. He quoted Chaudhry Nisar as saying at a July 13 cabinet meeting that loyalty was his most precious asset during his political journey spread over 35 years.

Shortly after the TV programme, a hard-hitting statement came from the interior minister saying the cabinet member should desist from issuing wrong and unrealistic statements about his speech at the cabinet meeting. “The interior minister has not said what a cabinet colleague continues to repeat and attribute to him,” the statement said, adding that unfortunately these wrong statements were coming from those ministers who were responsible for the crucial situation the government was faced with.

Chaudhry Nisar had attended a meeting of the federal cabinet on July 13 where the members reposed their 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 issuing vociferous statements against the JIT and some even indirectly uttered remarks against the judiciary, Chaudhry Nisar 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. But these clarifications fuelled more speculations, thus making his news conference an important political event at a time when the Supreme Court has already reserved its judgement in the Panama Papers case in the light of the JIT report and after hearing arguments of the respondents and the petitioners.

Published in Dawn, July 24th, 2017