LONDON: In a major development, Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) president Shahbaz Sharif supported the idea of an in-house change, saying the sooner the nation gets rid of Prime Minister Imran Khan, the better it is for the country.

“In-house change is purely a constitutional, legal way forward,” he replied when asked whether any proposal was under consideration to replace Prime Minister Khan through an in-house change.

“Imran Khan Niazi has become a burden and I think the sooner an in-house change is brought to rid the nation of him the better,” he said. “This is not about me...I am talking only from the point of national interest.”

Mr Sharif’s new-found support for an in-house change is apparently in contrast with the decisions of the last week opposition’s multi-party conference in which PML-N secretary general Ahsan Iqbal had demanded new, independent, fair and transparent elections as “the only solution” and warned that in case of using any other option the country would head towards destruction.

Hits out at ‘NAB-Niazi’ nexus after freezing of assets

Also present with him was PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari who said on the occasion that all the opposition parties agreed that since they did not accept the present “selected prime minister”, they would not accept any selected prime minister in future as well “be it through elections or in-house change”.

In mid-September, the PPP decided to bring an in-house change by “putting pressure on the allies and facilitators” of the PTI-led government and set a three-month deadline for it.

The PTI-led coalition government enjoys a thin majority in the National Assembly. For an in-house change, the opposition parties have to table, and get passed with a simple majority, a no-confidence motion against the prime minister.

Lashing out at the PM and the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Mr Sharif told a press conference here that freezing of his and his family members’ assets was “a result of the NAB-Niazi nexus” — a deliberate reference to the premier who prefers not to use his Niazi surname.

He also drew attention to NAB counsel Naeem Bokhari’s move to withdraw his appeals against the granting of bail in two cases against him.

“When Naeem Bokhari sahib saw that he was not succeeding (daal nahi gal rahi) in court, he voluntarily withdrew applications in which he had sought cancellation of my bail,” he said, hailing it as a victory.

A day earlier, NAB failed to convince the Supreme Court over the role the former chief minister might had played in the Ashiyana-i-Iqbal Housing Scheme and to establish that he had abused his authority. Subsequently, senior counsel Bokhari, who was representing the NAB chairman, pleaded before the court that he wished not to press the three appeals against the Feb 14 Lahore High Court order to release Mr Sharif on bail in the housing scheme scam and his April 10 bail in the Ramzan Sugar Mills case, as well as the release on bail of former principal secretary to the prime minister Fawad Hassan Fawad in the housing scheme case.

At the press conference, Mr Sharif also highlighted the remarks made by the apex court judges, who noted that the court was unable to understand how the former chief minister was guilty of misusing his authority or committing or indulging in corruption. He also appreciated the remarks the court made with regard to proposals for public-private partnerships, as the court had said it was unable to grasp the former CM’s crime.

“This ‘NAB-Niazi nexus’ moved to quickly freeze my assets as well as those of my family. But thank God, there is no better thing to highlight the reality of the case than the remarks of the court.”

He described the entire accountability process against him as a political witch-hunt, and said that he was called by NAB to appear in the Saaf Paani case but was arrested in the Ashiyana case.

“I was in NAB custody for five-and-a-half months and later sent on judicial remand. Thankfully, the courts granted me bail in February on merit,” he said.

“God willing, I believe that the truth about the innocence of Nawaz Sharif and his entire team [several members of which are in NAB custody] will become known. I have no issue saying that under Nawaz’s leadership his team delivered major achievements from 2014 to 2018,” Mr Sharif said, adding that prior to ‘14 the country experienced up to 20 hours of loadshedding and power cuts.

He blamed the ‘NAB-Niazi alliance’ for what he called high inflation, increase in unemployment and the poor state of the economy and hit out at the prime minister for “spewing vitriol”.

“I have never seen a PM who was so egotistical and who divided people so much. He is angry, selfish and puts his interests before the country’s. I want to ask him: where are those five million homes you were going to make?” He hit out at “the front-benchers of the PTI” who he said had laundered money to build mansions in Dubai, Europe and the UK. “Who doesn’t know about the big personalities in the PTI whose employees (mulazimeen) are shareholders in their companies?”

Mr Sharif also claimed that Mr Khan’s allegations against him in the Metro Bus cases of Multan and elsewhere had yielded nothing. He drew attention to the status of the Peshawar Metro project and said the current government had accumulated debts and should be held responsible for “criminal negligence”.

“I recall a joke that is pertinent to this situation,” Mr Sharif said. “There was once an accused man who went before a judge in a case and was given the death sentence. The convict made a request to the judge to fulfil his last wish. When the judge asked him what his wish was, he said: I want to see the Peshawar Metro. To this, the judge remarked, ‘you are a very clever man as you are asking for something that requires you to stay alive forever’.”

Shahbaz has been in London since Nov 19 to accompany his brother Nawaz during his medical tests and treatment. The press conference on Wednesday was the first time where he expressed his unreserved views about the government since coming to London.

Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2019