NAB keeps mum over Khwaja Asif’s ‘secret’ meeting with Shehbaz

Updated 28 Oct 2020

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In this 2019 file photo,  PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif, accompanied by party leader Khawaja Asif, speaks about the health of his brother and former premier Nawaz Sharif. — AP
In this 2019 file photo, PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif, accompanied by party leader Khawaja Asif, speaks about the health of his brother and former premier Nawaz Sharif. — AP

LAHORE: The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) is tight-lipped over the ‘secret’ meeting of PML-N senior leader Khwaja Muhammad Asif with Opposition leader in National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif in the bureau’s Lahore office over a week ago, sparking speculation that the Sharifs’ party is still in contact with the powers that be for ‘negotiations’ on certain matters.

PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif was in NAB’s custody over a week ago in the money-laundering and assets beyond means case when NAB allowed Khwaja Asif to have a meeting with him. Shehbaz is currently in Kot Lakhpat jail on judicial remand in this case.

According to the standard operating procedures (SOPs) of NAB, the bureau allows only those persons to meet a suspect in its custody who have court’s order or a special approval from the NAB chairman.

In the case of Khwaja Asif, NAB chairman retired justice Javed Iqbal had given special permission to him to see Shehbaz Sharif in its custody. Dawn sent a query to NAB’s spokesperson Nawazish Ali Asim on Monday asking about the chairman’s ‘special approval’ of Asif-Shahbaz meeting in the bureau’s Lahore office at Thokhar Niaz Baig in the presence of its Director General retired Maj Saleem Shahzad. It peferred to remain tight-lipped over the matter as no reply was received even on Tuesday.

Khwaja Asif also did not respond to Dawn’s query in this regard but revealed about this meeting to a private TV channel. The former foreign minister said he had gone to the NAB Lahore office after he received a call from the office of Shehbaz Sharif that he (Shehbaz) wanted to meet him (in NAB custody). “It was not a secret meeting as the NAB DG Lahore was present,” Mr Asif said.

Interestingly, after this meeting Khwaja Asif appeared before a NAB’s combined investigation team in the same building in the Iqama probe against him.

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Advisor on Accountability and Interior Shahzad Akbar had also told a presser that Shehbaz Sharif was holding ‘secret’ meetings in the NAB custody. The names of PML-N stalwarts Ahsan Iqbal and Rana Tanvir were also mentioned in this meeting but denied by Asif.

The PML-N leaders Dawn spoke to, requested that their comments should not be taken as it was a sensitive issue.

A party insider told Dawn that this meeting had been arranged by the “elements in the establishment.”

“A message from those elements was conveyed to Shehbaz Sharif. It was about Shehbaz’s elder brother Nawaz Sharif over his recent aggressive stance against the security establishment,” he said. Shehbaz Sharif is known for his ‘politics of reconciliation’.

The insider said this ‘secret meeting’ was arranged without the knowledge of Nawaz Sharif. “Although the message was conveyed to him, he showed his annoyance as why Khwaja Asif and company met Shehbaz Sharif for this purpose without bringing the matter to his knowledge,” he said.

This ‘secret’ meeting has taken place in the backdrop of Nawaz Sharif’s instruction to his party members barring them from meeting military or intelligence agencies’ people in the future without his prior permission. The directives were issued by the deposed prime minister after the army spokesman disclosed that PML-N leader Mohammad Zubair had twice reached out to Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and discussed political and legal woes of Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz and sought relief for them.

“Although this was not a PML-N leader’s meeting with a military or an intelligence agency person, it seems to have been arranged by any of them,” the insider said.

Published in Dawn, October 28th, 2020