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ISLAMABAD: Opposition members and a government ally on Wednesday assailed the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for alleged ‘political victimisation’, as Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif during the National Assembly session disclosed details of his interrogation by the watchdog alleging that there has been an ‘unholy alliance’ between the ruling PTI and NAB.

The PML-N president, who was allowed to attend the one-day session requisitioned by the opposition parties on the production order of Speaker Asad Qaiser, in his nearly 80-minute speech alleged that he had been offered to become an approver in cases against former foreign minister and PML-N stalwart Khwaja Asif.

Clad in his usual Safari suit, Mr Sharif, who had been especially brought from Lahore to attend the session only a day after an accountability court extended his remand for another two weeks, alleged that he was being kept in a windowless cell with no light and air passage.

“This is the first time in history that an opposition leader has been arrested without any charges in such a crude manner,” Mr Sharif said after thanking the speaker and other opposition leaders, especially Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, who was present in the house only to carefully listen to the speeches.

Shahbaz seeks parliamentary body to probe charges against him; PTI denies role in opposition leader’s arrest

“I was called in for the Saaf Pani case but then told that I was being arrested in the Ashiyana scam,” said the PML-N president.

Accusing the government of using NAB as a tool to politically victimise its opponents, the opposition leader alleged that only PML-N candidates were arrested before the general elections in the name of accountability.

He said the NAB chairman had signed his arrest orders in the first week of July and the orders were used just before the recent by-elections.

“But man proposes and God disposes,” Mr Sharif said, adding that despite all such tactics, the PML-N and other opposition parties won several seats in the by-polls. The PML-N won back even the Lahore seat that had previously been bagged by PTI chief and Prime Minister Imran Khan.

He said he would not argue on merits or demerits of the cases instituted against him but wanted to bring it on the record what type of questions were being asked by NAB investigators particularly by an official Aftab.

“A NAB official told me that in the Ashiyana housing scam, there is no corruption allegations against me but that I tried to award the contract of Rs1.5bn project to Kamran Kyani, the younger brother of the then army chief, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kyani, to placate him,” said Mr Sharif, the former chief minister of Punjab.

Terming the allegation absurd, Mr Sharif said in fact he had cancelled the bid that had been made by the company, owned by Mr Kamran, for the project in violation of the rules as mentioned in the report of the special committee that had been constituted under Tariq Bajwa, the present governor of the State Bank of Pakistan.

He said when he became the chief minister in 2008, he came to know that the previous government of Chaudhry Pervez Ilahi had awarded Rs35 billion contract of the Lahore Ring Road project to the company of Mr Kamran but he did not execute the project properly. Mr Sharif said he had even brought the matter into the notice of the then COAS Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kyani. He added that the army chief asked him to cancel the contract if his brother was not doing the job properly. He said had to withdraw the contract when the situation was not improved, claiming that “Gen Ashfaq Kyani never complained to him”.

In his first public appearance in the house since his arrest on Oct 5, Mr Sharif said NAB accused him and his children of having properties and investments in China. However, he said, the NAB officials said they did not have evidence when he challenged them to bring any proof. The investigators also alleged that he had business relations with the political leadership of Turkey, he said, while criticising NAB for dragging friends of Pakistan into controversies.

‘Parliamentary body to probe charges’

“Earlier, the PTI had accused me of having properties in Turkey and China and today, NAB is saying the same thing. After this no one needs proof of their unholy alliance,” Mr Sharif declared, asking Speaker Qaiser to constitute a committee to probe these charges.

He demanded a parliamentary committee be formed so that NAB chairman be summoned and asked to prove the charges being levelled against him regarding China and Turkey.

Mr Sharif said: “Imran Khan is a product of rigged elections”. Previously, Mr Khan had accused him of offering Rs10billion bribe through a close associate to drop the Panama Papers case against former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, the opposition leader said.

He said he had served Mr Khan a legal notice, but neither he nor his lawyer had ever responded.

“I do not fear prison nor do I fear atrocities of NAB,” he said, adding that he would not deter even at the cost of his life.

The government faced an embarrassing situation when Sardar Akhtar Mengal of the Balochistan National Party (BNP), a partner in the ruling coalition, joined his voice with the opposition in criticising NAB. He alleged that the bureau had always been used for “political victimisation of politicians and it has no courage to put hands on other segments of the society”.

Calling for an across-the-board accountability, he said that those who had abrogated the Constitution should also be made accountable.

The Baloch leader also criticised the PML-N and the PPP for selecting retired Justice Javed Iqbal as head of the commission that was supposed to deliver justice in missing persons case. Mr Iqbal had miserably failed to recover “thousands of the missing persons” as head of the commission, the position he still held, then how he could bring back the looted amount, the BNP chief remarked.

He said they often talked about implementation of Article 63, but had no courage to get Article 6 implemented against dictators.

Law Minister Farogh Naseem said any matter pending in a court could not be discussed on the floor of the house. Under NAB ordinance, he said, NAB conduct could not be discussed by any parliamentary committee.

The minister said NAB was functioning independently and there was no interference from the government in its affairs.

PPP leader Syed Khursheed Shah countered the argument and said that the parliament was the mother of all institutions and it could discuss all the issues. The PPP feared that there was a threat to democracy in the country, he said, suggesting all institutions to remain within their constitutional limits and allow the parliament to function.

Govt ready to change accountability laws: Fawad

Taking the floor, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry refuted Mr Sharif’s allegations regarding victimisation. He said the cases being faced by the opposition leader had not been initiated by the PTI.

He said if the opposition wanted to change the accountability laws, the government was ready to sit with them.

Mr Chaudhry also refuted the allegation that the army had interfered in the general elections and reminded the PML-N that the implementation of the court’s verdict in the Asghar Khan case was still pending.

Federal Minister for Housing and Works Chaudhry Tariq Bashir Cheema of the PML-Q stood up only to defend his party leadership – the Chaudhrys of Gujrat – and claimed that Punjab was in a better state under their government.

The treasury and the opposition members in their speeches also targeted each other for supporting military dictators in the past.

PML-N’s firebrand leader Khawaja Asif said the politics of revenge that the PPP and PML-N had engaged in against each other in the 1990s had created a space, which was then occupied and used by other forces with the result that the country had to face eight-year military rule.

Earlier, Mr Sharif also spent some time in his Parliament House chamber and met PPP’s Syed Khurshid Shah, besides members of his party.

Published in Dawn, October 18th, 2018