Ministers launch anti-judiciary tirade in NA

Updated December 20, 2017

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ISLAMABAD: Taking full advantage of the opposition’s absence from the National Assembly, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leaders on Tuesday launched unprecedented attacks on the country’s judiciary, accusing it of having different standards for Nawaz Sharif than for his opponents.

After an opposition walkout over the Fata issue left the ruling PML-N and its allies alone in the lower house, two of the government’s most outspoken members took the floor and delivered speeches similar to the ones they usually make outside the Supreme Court or at hurriedly-called press conferences at the Press Information Department.

On the day that his party chief appeared before an accountability court in the capital, firebrand Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique fired the first salvo when he accused the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and its leader Imran Khan of waging “political warfare through the courts”.

“As someone who did not support the disqualification of Yousuf Raza Gilani, I cannot support the de-seating of Nawaz Sharif or Jahangir Tareen,” he said, adding that he had feared all along that such recourse could open the door to the practice of sending elected prime ministers home through the courts.

“But the question is: how can two benches of the same court hand down two different judgements. The law is the same, but there are two distinct verdicts,” he said.

Though he prefaced his remarks by saying constitutional institutions should be respected and judicial decisions should be accepted, he maintained that the country’s judicial history was littered with “good decisions” and “controversial judgements that were neither accepted by the people, nor remembered fondly in history books”.

He lamented how, at one point, the Supreme Court was centre of all political battles being waged in the country, and cited the Panama Papers case against former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his family as a case in point.

“Obviously, the courts did not offer to decide the matter; it was taken to them,” he said, adding that this forced his party to file similar cases against their opponents — referring to Hanif Abbasi’s petition against Imran Khan and Jahangir Tareen.

“In Nawaz Sharif’s case, the story began with Panama [Papers], and when nothing was found, they rummaged through his family’s decades-old business and ended up disqualifying him over the income he was supposed to receive from his son’s company, but didn’t,” Mr Rafique stated.

But in Imran Khan’s case, he said that even though the PTI chief admitted to omitting mention of his offshore company in his declarations, “no Joint Investigation Team (JIT) was formed, no references were filed”.

The railways minister also pointed out how, in the matter of foreign funding, the apex court had set a five-year time limit to probe irregularities. “Everyone knows PTI’s foreign funding scandal dates back to around 2010. If the law was broken more than five years ago, does it cease to be a crime?”

“Things have gone wrong. It is clear now that Nawaz Sharif and his family are being targeted through judicial decisions, while Imran Khan and his supports are being provided relief through these verdicts,” he concluded.

Picking up this thread, Privatisation Minister Daniyal Aziz said that the country “has seen this film before”.

Lashing out at the discrepancy in standards of justice applied to Nawaz Sharif on the one hand and Imran Khan on the other, he recounted the entire history of the Panama Papers case and questioned the way the courts had conducted the matter.

Stopping just short of blaming Nawaz Sharif’s ouster on a ‘grand conspiracy’, he recalled how the Jamaat-i-Islami had filed a petition naming all 450 Pakistanis mentioned in the Panama Papers with the Supreme Court, which was declared frivolous and rejected.

“Imran Khan then filed a copycat petition, containing just Nawaz Sharif’s name. That too was thrown out,” he said, adding that the PTI then staged a ‘failed lockdown’ of Islamabad to put pressure on the court. But rather than sticking to its decision, the court changed its mind and took up the cases that were earlier thrown out.

Published in Dawn, December 20th, 2017