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Nisar not to leave Sharif in the lurch

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Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar speaks at a press conference at Punjab House on Thursday.—White Star
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar speaks at a press conference at Punjab House on Thursday.—White Star

ISLAMABAD: A day after revealing he had been excluded from intra-party consultations for his stance on certain issues, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan held a long-awaited press conference on Thursday, wherein he made public all his grievances with the party.

“I had decided to take an extreme step… to not only step down as interior minister, but also resign from the National Assembly and say goodbye to politics,” he told flabbergasted reporters at the hurriedly-called press briefing at Punjab House.

“This was my position until last night, in fact, until this morning; that I would quit once the court handed down a verdict in the Panama Papers case,” he continued, adding that he had been persuaded by certain friends not to go ahead with the plan.

The ambiguously-phrased remarks led many to assume that the minister is likely to resign from the cabinet and National Assembly after the Supreme Court announced its verdict in the Panamagate case. However, interior ministry sources continued to insist that the minister was only talking about his stance in discussions with top party leaders, but had later decided against quitting.

Minister likely to resign from cabinet and National Assembly after today’s SC verdict

“For 33 years, I have been part of every meeting. But suddenly, over the past month and a half, I stopped getting invitations to top-level consultations. In this time, I was invited for three meetings; the National Security Council, cabinet and parliamentary party meetings. I attended [the first two] and haven’t been attending the latter for a long time.”

Explaining his repeated invitations to press conferences that kept being postponed, the minister said: “The presser I wanted to hold Sunday or Monday would’ve been very short, and in accordance with what the media has been saying”, a reference to the speculation regarding his differences with the party leadership and rumours of his resignation.

But he also had a word of advice for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif; keep your feet on the ground and react calmly and patiently in case of an adverse decision.

“People will try to provoke you, but do not be enraged,” he warned, underlining the need for keeping the ruling party intact.

Wishing PM Sharif all the best, he said he would go to the Prime Minister’s House to congratulate him in case of a favourable decision.

“God forbid, if the verdict is adverse, I will go to him even then,” he remarked, making it clear he was not aspiring for office.

“I am not in this game. I am neither a candidate, nor do I have such desires. This is not an issue and it has not been discussed.”

Referring to tensions with party colleagues, he observed that certain individuals were uncomfortable with him and wanted to create space for themselves.

The minister also recalled his three decade-long association with the PML-N and Nawaz Sharif, saying that he was the only founding member of the party left among their ranks.

Explaining how matters came to a head, he confirmed that he had played “the devil’s advocate” by presenting a more pragmatic picture before PM Sharif, and decried those who were obsequious in their advice.

Saying that he had always told the prime minister the bitter truth, he claimed that he had been the target of conspiracies and propaganda from within the party since 1985.

He alleged that certain individuals had tried to distance him from the party leadership by continuously targeting him for his association with the armed forces.

Chaudhry Nisar said he was proud of his family’s military background, adding that his grandfather, father and brother were all army men, in addition to three of his brothers-in-law and several nephews. However, he was adamant that he had never compromised on civilian authority.

To prove his loyalty, he recalled confrontations with former army chiefs; with General Aslam Beg in 1991 over the Gulf War, and with Gen Asif Nawaz when he acted against the MQM without the government’s mandate.

He said he had known Gen Musharraf since the latter’s days as a colonel, but when he dislodged the Nawaz Sharif government in 1999, their relationship turned to one of enmity.

Published in Dawn, July 28th, 2017