The recent actions and movements of the powerful Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, in the wake of financial scandal Sharif family is facing, has given credence to some widely held beliefs that he does not side with the stance of the ruling PML-N over the report of the joint investigation team (JIT).
Nisar has issued at least three clarifications-cum-rebuttals, during the last three days, against media reports about his movements and interactions with the party following the submission of the JIT report before the Supreme Court.
In the clarifications that Nisar has given he has failed to categorically state that he stands by the prime minister at this time of crisis the PML-N is facing and has failed to endorse the party’s point of view on the JIT report, a PML-N lawmaker said wishing anonymity.
The interior minister, on the other hand, has even rejected the report of a private TV channel about his remarks made in Thursday’s federal cabinet meeting.
The report said Nisar remarked in the cabinet meeting that he paid tributes to the prime minister for presenting himself for accountability.
“The [JIT] report has been submitted but the decision has yet to come. I hope and pray that you [PM] will be victorious [in the Supreme Court]. The credit of upholding transparency goes to our government,” the report said, quoting the minister. Nisar immediately issued a rebuttal and said contents of the reports were contrary to what he said in the cabinet meeting and deplored over “incorrect reporting”.
A spokesperson of the interior ministry, while talking to The Nation said that he was not sure about the exact wording of the report the minister rebutted.
Though the dust over the remarks of Nisar in the cabinet meeting and his conspicuous behaviour had not settled, yet the political circles in the capital have began speculating over the increasing rifts between the minister and the party leadership when he did not appear in the parliamentary meeting of the party on Friday.
“The presence of all senior leaders of the party in the parliamentary party was a must as PM Nawaz Sharif and the party itself was facing one of the worst crises in its history,” said another PML-N leader.
However, the interior minister again issued a clarification, in a casual manner, about his non-participation in the party meeting. “The minister did not participate in Friday’s party meeting because of personal commitments. And prior to this, he had not been attending a number of parliamentary party meetings,” said a spokesperson of the interior ministry.
He also said the minister would inform the media about his stance in the coming days.
The spokesperson also denied that neither the interior minister exchanged any hot words with anyone in the cabinet meeting nor staged a protest walkout.
Nisar, who had held a strong-worded press conference in April last year and defended the prime minister and his family when Panama Papers made revelations of their offshore wealth, has also remained absent from the political scene during the past 60 days, when the JIT was holding its investigations. As a silent spectator, he only drove the cars of his old friend — Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar when both were making their way to appear before the JIT.
While the other senior ministers, including Khawaja Muhammad Asif, Ahsan Iqbal, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Khawaja Saad Rafique, stepped out to defend his leader, Nisar remained invisible from the whole scene and did not defend his party leadership for a single moment. Many within the ruling party are unhappy with the behaviour of the interior minister.
According to some insiders of the cabinet meeting, Nisar in his interaction with the prime minister only focussed on his loyalty with the party and negated the questions being raised in political and journalistic circles over his loyalty.
He said he was with the party since 1980s and no one could raise finger over his political loyalty. Nisar also stressed the need for consultations to come out of the crisis. “He [Nisar] had claimed in the cabinet meeting that he was even senior to Raja Zafarul Haq [Leader of the House in the Senate] in the party, and had made it clear that he was not in the race to become PM. But then he [Nisar] did not attend Friday’s meeting, this gives a wrong message to the opposition,” commented a senior PML-N lawmaker close to the Sharif family.
“If you [interior minister] have closed yourself in Punjab House, almost 1,000 yards from PM Office, then the claims of the loyalty have no significance and what is the need to issue clarifications at this critical time,” he added.
PML-N MNA from Sialkot District Syed Iftikharul Hassan avoided to talk about the absence of the interior minister in the parliamentary party’s meeting but added that there was no rift within the party as claimed by dissident leader Sardar Zulfiqar Ali Khan Khosa.
“The presence of PML-N lawmakers, in large number, in the parliamentary party is a proof of the claim that the party stood by Nawaz Sharif,” he said. Hassan also denied the claims made by disgruntled Khosa that a forward bloc within the PML-N had emerged.