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‘No Setback to Our Movement’

by Newsweek Pakistan

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In wide-ranging press conference, Maryam Nawaz dismisses rumors of split within PMLN, vows anti-government protests will continue

In a no-holds-barred press conference, Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) Vice-President Maryam Nawaz on Monday slammed the incumbent Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led government, alleging it had targeted party leader Shahbaz Sharif in a bid to discourage the Pakistan Democratic Movement.

“This movement will not suffer a setback due to Shahbaz Sharif’s arrest,” she said of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) arrest, adding that the “extremely unfortunate” detention would in fact encourage more dissent. She alleged that the PMLN president—who is also her fraternal uncle—had been arrested solely because he chose not to betray his brother Nawaz Sharif.

“He [Shahbaz] not only stood with his brother, but displayed unwavering loyalty to his brother’s cause and the party. His wife has been made an absconder; his son, my brother Hamza, has been sent to jail and no case has been proven against him,” she said. “In the past week, Shahbaz gave a few statements saying if they [government] want to arrest him, they can, but [the PMLN] will continue to implement [directives of] Nawaz Sharif’s speech from the APC,” she said, in a reference to a speech in which the PMLN supreme leader had pledged to fight for democracy in Pakistan.

Claiming Shahbaz had been arrested over flawed allegations, Maryam also hit out at the overall process of accountability in Pakistan. “If there is any semblance of justice in Pakistan, then instead of Shahbaz Sharif, Asim Saleem Bajwa should have been arrested,” she said about the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Authority chairman who has been accused of earning assets beyond means; he has denied this, claiming the wealth belongs to his brothers and children.

“Shahbaz Sharif does not own 99 companies or hundreds of franchises. Shahbaz Sharif hails from a business family and his father was a well-known businessman,” she said, and questioned how “salaried employee” Bajwa had been able to make billions abroad. “NAB says it looks at the case and not the face. Has it not seen this case yet?” she said, adding that the anti-graft watchdog had already lost all its credibility after being questioned by various court rulings, including a Supreme Court verdict that accused it of political engineering.

“Look at how the media was pressured [to not report this] until Asim Bajwa issued a clarification and then they [media] were told to run Bajwa’s clarification,” she said. “Everyone, from the media to us, was asking about the news on which the clarification was issued,” she said.

The PMLN leader also slammed the government for “smuggling out” former PTI leader Jahangir Khan Tareen after a sugar inquiry commission had implicated him. “When his [Tareen’s] son was called to present himself before the JIT, he said that he cannot come as he is looking after his father,” she said.

No rifts

Discussing the rumors of a looming split within the PMLN—most often alleged by government spokespersons—Maryam said the party was united and would remain united. “Shahbaz Sharif has his own views, according to which he believes that maybe reconciliation makes for better politics. He says this in front of Mian Sahab [Nawaz], the party and in front of all of us. But when Mian Sahab issues his directives, he [Shahbaz] is the first one to accept them,” she said.

Claiming that Nawaz Sharif would lead the party remotely while Shahbaz was imprisoned, Maryam said that the entire party was united in urging her father to remain in London until a doctor had declared him healthy but vowed that he would return as soon as he was able.

She said those who were discussing the PMLN splitting did not know that in the past all who had tried to break the PMLN were “made history” themselves.

Imran Khan

Branding Prime Minister Imran Khan a “coward,” Maryam said he was afraid that Shahbaz would one day be considered a suitable choice to replace him. “In the eyes of the people, especially in the eyes of the people of Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif is the only choice,” she said. “To the institutions that are standing beside Imran Khan, they should know that a man with no experience has been imposed on the people,” she added.

Claiming no one had maligned state institutions more than the prime minister, she said that if this support continued, things could soon spiral out of control.

Referring to the prime minister’s statement that he would call for by-elections if the opposition parties resigned en masse from Parliament, Maryam said it was “not so easy” to hold elections on so many seats. She also alleged that Shahbaz’s arrest was part of an effort to engineer poll results in Gilgit-Baltistan.

“Whether the PMLN wins or loses in the elections, it will not let the field remain open for you so easily in Gilgit-Baltistan,” she said, adding that if the engineering must happen, “if you have to steal elections,” then it would have to be done in the public view. “You will not be able to do this from the shadows,” she added.

At the conclusion of her press conference, the PMLN vice-president also responded to a question on a meeting between former governor Mohammad Zubair and Army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, saying it had been a meeting between friends and the military should not have waded in.

“The DG ISPR conducts himself very decently but I don’t think he should have become a party in this matter,” she said. “He should not have given a political touch to a personal meeting,” she said, adding that the meeting had not happened due to any urging by herself or her father.

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