ISLAMABAD / LAHORE: The country’s two major opposition parties — the PML-N and the PPP — which have been crying foul over the ongoing accountability process for the past couple of years and have not missed any opportunity to target the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) — have adopted a cautious approach in their reaction to the controversy over some leaked audio and video clips involving NAB chairman retired Justice Javed Iqbal.
The two parties, which recently announced their plan to devise a “joint strategy” from the platform of the combined opposition after Eid to launch an anti-government movement, differ over the demand for the NAB chairman’s resignation as well as the mode of investigation into the affair.
The PPP wants the NAB chairman to step down from his position, at least until completion of an inquiry, whereas the PML-N has not officially made any such demand. Moreover, the PML-N itself appears to be divided on the issue as a section within the party believes that they should seek the NAB chairman’s resignation and a legal action whereas the other prefers formation of a parliamentary committee to probe the matter.
A group in PML-N wants legal action, other opposes it; PTI alleges PML-N conspiring to pressurise NAB chief
On the other hand, the PPP talks about “proper investigations” into the matter, but believes that parliamentary probe may not be fruitful as the issue will require the use of “forensic” and other techniques to know the facts behind the release of the controversial audio and video clips of the NAB chairman in which he had allegedly been shown talking to a woman on some personal and objectionable matters.
“This is a serious matter and requires proper and forensic investigation to find out who wants to pressurise the NAB chairman and for what?” said PPP secretary general Farhatullah Babar.
Mr Babar said the PPP believed the NAB chairman had no moral authority to continue in the office and it was in the interest of the institution that he should step down until completion of an inquiry.
Background interviews with the leaders of the PPP and PML-N show they believe that the controversy has put both Prime Minister Imran Khan and the NAB chairman into trouble and that they themselves can get political benefits out of the present situation, if handled intelligently and wisely.
“You see, the pressure is now on the government and Prime Minister Imran Khan which is evident from the statements of the government ministers and the ruling party who have now started to defend the NAB chairman and pointing fingers at the opposition over the audio-video episode,” said a senior PPP leader on condition of anonymity.
The PPP leader said they were demanding a “thorough investigation” believing that the NAB chairman might know the real people and real motive behind the leakage of these alleged audio and video tapes.
Divisions within PML-N
The PML-N found itself in an awkward position when former spokesperson for party’s president Shahbaz Sharif and MPA Malik Ahmed along with incumbent spokesperson (for Shahbaz) Atta Tarar took exception at a presser to the leaked tapes and demanded the NAB chairman’s resignation forthwith but the party’s information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb distanced the party from the demand.
Mr Ahmed said that after the controversial interview of the NAB chairman in which he had levelled serious allegations at Mr Sharif, his position had weakened and therefore he should resign.
“We will also file a petition against the NAB chairman for his false allegations against Shahbaz Sharif,” he said, adding a parliamentary committee should probe the chairman’s alleged video tapes.
Soon after Mr Ahmed’s press conference, Ms Aurangzeb, who is considered to be from Maryam Nawaz’s camp, declared that the party’s stated stance was to constitute a parliamentary committee to probe the matter.
“Malik Muhammad Ahmed’s demand for NAB chairman’s resignation and decision to move the court over the scandal is his personal opinion and does not represent PML-N’s official position on the issue,” she said in a statement.
Ms Aurangzeb said Mr Sharif and senior vice-president Shahid Khaqan Abbasi had already laid out the party’s take on NAB. She said Mr Sharif, Mr Abbasi and the party’s information secretary were the ones entrusted with the PML-N’s official stance on issues.
“In case of any individual statements, their coherence and consistency with the party’s stance can be verified from them,” she said.
Sources said that soon after the press conference in Lahore, Mr Abbasi telephoned Mr Sharif and discussed the situation and later the party president told reporters during an Iftar dinner in London that demand for the NAB chief’s resignation was that of Mr Ahmed’s own.
Earlier, Mr Abbasi had said a motion would be tabled in the National Assembly seeking establishment of a parliamentary body to uncover the truth behind accusations against the prime minister and to provide the NAB chairman a ‘fair chance’ to defend himself.
PTI’s central information secretary Omar Sarfaraz Cheema in a statement alleged that the PML-N was conspiring to pressurise the NAB chairman.
Mr Cheema said NAB was an independent entity and the incumbent government had no role in its operations. “The PML-N is orchestrating a malicious campaign against the NAB chairman in a bid to extricate itself from the ongoing accountability,” he added.
Published in Dawn, May 26th, 2019