PML-N leaders on Tuesday questioned the merits of the judgement against former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in the Al-Azizia Steel Mills corruption reference, and claimed that the ongoing process of accountability in the country was discriminating against opposition leaders but favouring the government.
A day after an accountability court handed Sharif seven years in jail and two hefty fines, an assortment of PML-N leaders, at a press conference in Islamabad, took turns to criticise the verdict as well as the federal government and its allies.
"The first case in which Nawaz Sharif was disqualified, the crime ascertained was that he did not take salary from his son," said former federal minister Ahsan Iqbal. "And this time the allegation levelled is that 'since your son sent you money, therefore you stand disqualified'.
"Now I want to raise this question that in the Middle East up to 3.5 million Pakistanis remit money to their families, so would they be considered their business partners or co-owners? If any son sends money to his parents, will they be held guilty?
"Nawaz Sharif was ascertained the owner of that company simply on the basis that his son sent him money — a practice that is done by millions of Pakistanis.
"Similarly, the ongoing accountability process is basically a selected prime minister committing selected accountability. PML-N legislators are being arrested whereas the PTI and its allies, no matter how severe the allegations on them, they are free to do anything.
"PML-N leaders are arrested during inquiry but PTI leaders, who even have references filed against them, are free and the law is not in motion against them. Nawaz Sharif appeared 165 times in the court but PTI leaders' cases get delayed at their leisure. They are given dates as per their preference.
"No one can arrest PTI leaders. All the summons and arrests are for PML-N leaders because this government is on ventilator. Another form of convention or Q league is being imposed on Pakistan in the form of PTI."
Iqbal claimed that the corruption being committed under the PTI government is three times more than that of the previous eras but that "no NAB, no court is taking suo motu notice of it".
Mohammad Zubair urged the prime minister to also hold his own party leaders accountable, especially those who "have admitted themselves that they had offshore companies".
"We demand from NAB and the courts that the sense of urgency they have shown against the PML-N, we want to see the same against the PTI leaders.
The former governor Sindh questioned why the case of prime minister's sister Aleema Khanum was wrapped up with "just a fine".
"If it was solved with a penalty then it means that she had done something wrong," Zubair said. "Why isn't the same penalty solution offered to the PML-N? Our question is how did she send money abroad from here. The PM should set an example here.
"Moreover, you have ordered audits of Lahore Metro, Multan Metro and Pindi/Islamabad Metro ... why not Peshawar Metro? Why is there such a distinction? These twin standards are not acceptable and we demand of NAB that if they want to establish their credibility, there should be an across-the-board accountability."
Zubair demanded that the PTI leaders make complete disclosures of their earnings, money trails and property acquisitions.
Sharif was convicted in the Al-Azizia Steel Mills corruption reference but acquitted in Flagship Investments reference — a distinction that Punjab's former law minister Rana Sanaullah found hard to understand.
He claimed that the evidence and defence was same in both the cases, adding that it is strange for "Qatari to be halal in one and haram in other". However, Sanaullah seemed hopeful of "getting relief from the courts just as we had before".
"We respect NAB as an institution of justice," he said. "We can still have our reservations against an individual."
Sanaullah, however, slammed an unnamed individual from Rawalpindi for "acting as the spokesperson of NAB and the judiciary".
Senator Mushahidullah echoed Sanaullah's sentiments regarding the individual from Rawalpindi as well as another from Jhelum.
Musadiq Malik, the former spokesperson to the prime minister, drew a parallel between the incumbent government and the Adolf Hitler-led Nazi Germany.
"There is a ban on politics, on journalism and every dissenter who questions is being arrested," Malik claimed.
He wondered why Sharif was handed a prison sentence even when "the NAB had itself admitted in court that Sharif was neither a shareholder, a director or a signatory."
"I pray that they (PTI government) do not end the way Hitler and Mussolini did ... because their conducts are similar," Malik concluded.
PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb, while responding to a question on restrictions on media, claimed that the "government wants to shut down all private channels so that only PTV remains, which could then keep their failures and corruption hidden".
PTI leaders rebut PML-N's stinging presser
Minutes after the PML-N presser ended, PTI leaders — led by Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry — conducted a press conference of their own.
Chaudhry defended the ongoing accountability drive, reminding his critics that "it is our mandate to catch thieves."
Regarding PML-N leaders' repeated labeling of the premier as a "selected prime minister", the information minister reminded them that "the PML-N itself was engineered by General Zia."
"Mian Sharif, Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif were not even councilors before General Zia," the firebrand PTI leader added.
Chaudhry questioned the basis of PML-N's criticism of PML-Q, a key government ally, pointing out that one of their former leaders (Mushahid Hussain Syed) was in their own ranks.
In the earlier presser, multiple PML-N leaders had asked why Shahbaz Sharif was in jail but PTI leader Babar Awan was not despite NAB inquires against both.
Chaudhry explained that Shahbaz and Khawaja Saad Rafique, unlike Awan, were influencing the probe against them.
Minister of State for Revenue Hammad Azhar tackled the Aleema Khanum issue. He claimed that the PM's sibling's case of undeclared assets was resolved with just a fine because "she has never been a public office-holder."
The state minister said that Khanum has since also submitted her money trail in the court, pointing out that her only fault was that she had not declared a foreign asset — an offence for which he said a penalty was apt retribution.