Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar finally held his much-awaited press conference on Thursday to announce that he would leave his ministry and the National Assembly the day the Panamagate verdict was announced.
Clarifying that he was not taking any extreme measure at the moment, "owing to the pressure of friends", Nisar said he would resign nonetheless from the ministry and the National Assembly on the day the Supreme Court announces the Panamagate verdict — "be it for the party or against it."
"My heart is no longer in politics," he said.
At the start of the presser, Nisar remarked that it was going to be his "most difficult" press conference.
In his nearly 45-minute long speech, the interior minister talked about his 33-year association with the party, conspiracies within the ruling PML-N, and his disillusionment with politics.
He concluded with some sound parting advice to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whom he praised throughout as a “great and humble leader”.
Nisar shares details of rumoured rift with PML-N leadership
Says he was told by senior leaders not to hold press conference today
Claims he was a victim of internal conspiracies in the PML-N
Expressed disgust with political wheeling and dealing
Says will resign from ministry, NA on the day of the Panamagate verdict come what may
The falling out
"I want to clarify a lot of things because of the rumours circulating these days," Nisar began. "I want to talk about the situation vis-a-vis the Panamagate case," he said.
"I said in the cabinet meeting that it did not feel right saying these things, but there comes a time when certain things need to be said. Most of my colleagues are 20-25 years junior, and I had thought it may be a learning experience for them."
"Some things were reported correctly about that meeting, some were not. I wanted to clarify what I said and bring on record some other things that I've always wanted to say."
"I am not angry. This is a difficult time for the party and I'm not looking [at opportunities] anywhere else. Why would I do that after 33 years [of loyalty]?"
However: "For the past month and a half, I was suddenly excluded from the PML-N's cabinet meetings. I do not know why this was so. I was not invited to these consultative meetings and I do not attend if I'm not invited."
"Some people said I'd missed the train. I don't just get on any train," he said. "I've been on this train since the very beginning. But yes, I have recently been a victim of internal intrigues. This was because I was close to the leadership and I spoke straight to people's faces."
Referring to a flurry of meetings with PML-N leaders ahead of his press conference, Nisar said: "I was told by senior leaders not to do this press conference today. I told them I had to," he continued. "I had made a major decision, and I had to announce it."
"I love this party. Mian Nawaz Sharif created it and grew it through a labour of love," he said. "But I said this in the meeting, and I'll say it again: when I look around me, the people who helped create this party are nowhere to be found. Some have left the party; some have left the world."
He reiterated that: "Someone who gave 33 years to this party cannot leave it just like that; nobody believed this, and there is nothing bigger for me than this."
"All my life, I've spoken the truth to Nawaz Sharif. There has never been any duplicity in my intentions. My role was the same as the advisers who would whisper to the Roman Caesar: 'Caesar, you're human'. I would do the same to Nawaz Sharif."
"It pains me to say this, but when the PML-N was facing its most difficult challenge, there was a conspiracy to remove me from the consultative process," Nisar said.
"I went to mian sahab three months ago and I told him that I have always given you the bad news. I have played the devil's advocate. He said 'I like this in you and you should continue speaking the truth.'"
"Yet this happened. I want to ask: 'Why did you listen to these people?'" Nisar asked. "When I have never criticised cabinet colleague, why was I criticised like I was?" he added.
'Never compromised on civilian supremacy'
Speaking on civil-military relations, Nisar said he had "never compromised on civilian supremacy" even though he had strong familial and personal ties to the military.
"Ask any general if I've ever sought to sacrifice civilian rule for my personal political gains," he said, in apparent reference to speculations and rumours that Nisar has always been 'the army's man'.
"I do whatever it takes to maintain civil-military relations for the sake of supremacy of civilian rule," he said, recounting multiple instances where he had run-ins with serving generals over various matters.
"Ask any military or intelligence leader if I've ever attempted to undermine the government for political gain."
Will resign on day of Panamagate verdict
Clarifying that he was not taking any extreme measure right now, "owing to the pressure of friends", Nisar nonetheless said he would resign from his ministry and the National Assembly on the day the Supreme Court announces the Panamagate verdict — "be it in favour of the party or against it."
"I feel embarrassed when I watch the TV these days. What kind of role models are these that hurl allegations and abuses at each other," he remarked. "Politics has become torture. The last vestiges of civility are disappearing fast."
"My heart is no longer in politics," he said.
"Conspiracy is not in my blood, so do not think I will indulge in it. But i have to decide at what level I will remain in politics."
"I am not in the game of becoming the prime minister, and that is not the issue," the interior minister said, addressing reports that he had been upset that junior party members were being considered for the prime minister's slot in case the Supreme Court sent Nawaz Sharif packing.
"The issue is what I have told you about," he added. "To me, my character is more important."
Following Nisar's press conference, the Interior Ministry spokesman issued a statement saying, "The interior minister said, 'Until yesterday evening (Wednesday) I had made up my mind to take an extreme decision but after meeting some friends, I changed my mind. Some friends perhaps received the wrong impression.'"
Parting advice to the premier
"I want to tell Nawaz Sharif — if I was with you, I would tell you that if you are absolved in the Supreme Court: keep your feet on the ground. There will be those who will ask for heads for roll: I beseech you, you are a humble man, do not fall for this."
"If the court decides against you: you are a well-loved man. This country and its people have given more to you than to anybody else. You have to behave with restraint, and you have to take the party forward. You need to ensure unity in the PML-N and you need to take it forward. Do not be angry; there are some who will want you to be angry."
"The country is under severe threat. We are being surrounded. I know this, you know this and only two more people know this. You need to rise above only protecting yourself — you need to protect the entire country. You need to pick up the pieces — whether you win or you lose," Nisar pleaded.
"I said this in the party meeting, and I'll say it again: the Supreme Court's decision should be accepted at all costs. If the apex court's decision is not respected, it will be as if Pakistan is ruled by the law of the jungle."
"Even if you lose, the country will remember you for having a big heart. Fight the political fight, but do not fall victim to conspiracies that seek to create more conflict," Nisar said before departing the podium.
PML-N in damage control
Nisar had been visited by Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif for the second time in two days in the lead-up to the press conference. The prime minister's younger brother had reportedly sought to talk the disgruntled interior minister out of a showdown against the ruling party.
A team of senior leaders from the PML-N had also met him on Wednesday in a bid to persuade him not to go public with internal party differences. The team had included Shahbaz Sharif, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique.
Sources had told Dawn that the trio asked Nisar to call off his press conference. The thrust of the PML-N leaders’ argument was that differences within the party should only be discussed and addressed within the party.
Insiders said that during the meeting, the interior minister continued to insist that certain outstanding issues needed to be explained and clarified.
An interior ministry spokesperson, speaking on behalf of Chaudhry Nisar on Wednesday evening, had dismissed media reports stating that efforts were being made to placate the interior minister and that he was 'angry' with the PML-N leadership.
"The truth is that the interior minister had adopted a contrary position on some important matters in the PML-N's internal meetings, after which he was excluded from the consultative process," the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said the interior minister was seeking an explanation for his exclusion from the PML-N's meetings, and wanted to know if the decision was made due to his opposing stance, or due to some other reason.
The interior ministry spokesperson further said that unless a clarification was provided, "it will be difficult to resolve problems in a positive manner."