LAHORE: Commenting on apprehensions surrounding the role of certain powers in preventing the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) from returning to power, party president Shahbaz Sharif warned of serious consequences if the upcoming elections were not held in a transparent manner.

“If free and fair elections are not held, the future (of the country) will be bleak,” he said, while responding to a question about reports that the PML-N may be prevented from forming a majority bloc, in one way or another, and form the next government. He was speaking at a press conference on Tuesday to list the achievements of his five years in government in Punjab.

“All institutions will be strengthened in the wake of fair elections,” he said, adding that it would allow Pakistan to move onto its next destination in terms of progress and prosperity. “And if the PML-N returns to power, all conspiracies (against it) will end,” he said.

Says he, his son Hamza and son-in-law Imran have not appeared before NAB in Saaf Pani Company case due to ‘selective’ accountability

In response to question about why his elder brother Nawaz Sharif and niece Maryam Nawaz had continued with the confrontational stance against other state institutions — the judiciary and army — the PML-N chief said:“A country which has experienced four martial laws has institutions that are weak. I do not believe in clash of institutions. There should be no confrontation among them. How can we move forward if there is no harmony or consultation among institutions?”

Mr Sharif announced that if his party returned to power after the July 25 polls, it would immediately begin work on the Bhasha Dam and try to complete it as early as possible so as to solve the acute water and electricity shortage. “No doubt the Kalabagh Dam is inevitable for the country, but national unity is required in this regard. We will start work on the Bhasha Dam if we come to power and will try to complete it,” he promised.

Responding to another question about the PML-N’s chances of winning the election, Mr Sharif said, “If we form a majority, we will take the opposition along otherwise, we will play a constructive role from the opposition benches.”

When asked why he and his son (Hamza) and his son-in-law (Imran Ali) had been avoiding appearing before the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in the Punjab Saaf Pani Company case, Mr Sharif said the investigation had not been carried out in a fair manner.

“However, I will appear before NAB in this matter,” he said, and added that his government had saved Rs70bn in projects related to the 56 public companies. He questioned NAB’s “selective” accountability, saying that: “NAB is working here at a bullet’s speed. The system will not work through selective accountability. The people (officials) are afraid (of NAB).”

When a reporter asked a question about the Supreme Court taking notice of massive salary packages given to the heads of 56 public companies in Punjab, Mr Sharif said he would not comment on the proceedings of the apex court, but there were other organisations, such as the Pakistan International Airlines, Pakistan State Oil, SNGPL and others, whose heads had salary packages of Rs5million, Rs4m and Rs2.4m, respectively. “I have not committed a sin by establishing these companies, as they were established in the past too. Their employees were hired from the open market and their salary packages were approved by a board of directors,” he said, and added that his government had saved Rs682bn in various projects over the last five years. “This amount is unprecedented throughout the country’s history,” he said.

The PML-N chief lauded the sacrifices of army men. “More than 4,000 soldiers and army officers have sacrificed their lives. The Punjab government has given Rs1bn to the army to build a fence (along the Afghanistan border),” he said.

‘Met Reham before PTI’s 2014 sit-in’

When asked whether he had met Reham Khan, PTI chief Imran Khan’s ex-wife, and financed her yet-to-be-released book, as the PTI is claiming, Mr Sharif said these allegations were baseless. He added that he had met Ms Khan before the PTI’s 2014 sit-in at a PTV platform, “and that was the first and last meeting with her”.

Detailing the achievements of the PML-Nawaz-led government in Punjab, Mr Sharif said: “My government brought 5,000MW to the system during the last five years while Imran Khan’s government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa added a negative 6MW to the system.”

Once a caretaker chief minister assumes charge this week, the outgoing chief minister of Punjab said, he would then be a “free bird”.

Published in Dawn, June 6th, 2018