The government on Tuesday decided to adopt a hands-off approach towards the sedition case against the top leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), as the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) disowned the man, who filed the case with the police in Lahore.
Prime Minister Imran Khan categorically denied any knowledge of lodging of the first information report (FIR) against the PML-N supremo and other senior leaders of the party, saying that the government did not believe in “political revenge”.
“People say that the FIR of the sedition against the opposition was lodged by [at the behest of] Imran Khan. However, I was cutting my birthday cake on that day when I heard about it,” the prime minister told ministers while chairing the federal cabinet meeting on Tuesday.
Temperatures have risen on the political landscape since the opposition launched the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) last month. And a new buzz stirred on Monday after an FIR was registered with the Shahdara police station on Monday by one Badar Rasheed.
Those nominated in the FIR included Azad Jammu and Kashmir Prime Minister Raja, besides senior PML-N leaders Maryam Nawaz, Ayaz Sadiq, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Pervaiz Rashid, Khawaja Asif, Rana Sanaullah and Iqbal Zafar Jhagra.
The FIR invokes laws regarding criminal conspiracy, waging or attempting to wage war against Pakistan, sedition, provocation with intent to cause riot, statements conducing to public mischief and other crimes.
Hours after the registration of the case, top aides of the prime minister, including one senior member of the cabinet, said that Imran was “displeased” with the move. Information Minister Shibli Faraz said on Tuesday that it could be the handiwork of “someone related” to the opposition.
The ministers discussed the case in the cabinet meeting. Some ministers, including Fawad Chaudhry, Shireen Mazari, Shafqat Mehmood, Nadeem Afzal Chan and Ali Muhammad Khan demanded withdrawal of the FIR, saying that the case had tarnished the image of the government.
According to sources, some ministers suggested that the matter of the filing of the case should be investigated and that the FIR be brought to its logical conclusion. It was decided that the police would be allowed to pursue the case and the government would not intervene in this regard.
At the post-meeting press conference, Faraz distanced Prime Minister Imran and the government from the registration of the FIR and told reporters that “someone related” to the opposition might have done it.
“This FIR can be lodged by anyone. You can do it against me. I will say that someone of theirs [opposition] must have done it,” Faraz told the press conference. He added that Prime Minister Imran Khan and his government “should not be involved” in this matter.
“The Punjab government will find out who did this and investigate it. Whoever has done it will be found out. The government has nothing to do with it. Anyone can do it, hence you should not put it on us,” he said, adding that Prime Minister Imran neither went for FIRs nor would he free anyone.
Faraz said that the people knew the background in which the opposition had embarked on its current activities. He added the opposition was using the language of enemy India, which wanted to include Pakistan in the black list of Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
“The opposition will hold public meetings only to save assets of a few leaders,” he remarked, referring to the series of rallies announced by the PDM. “The opposition is using different means to create chaos and economic instability in the country,” he noted.
Who is the complainant?
Also on Tuesday, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) disowned Rasheed, while the opposition leaders directly accused Punjab Governor Chaudhry Muhamad Sarwar of involvement. PML-N Punjab lawmaker Uzma Bukhari alleged that the case was registered at the behest of Sarwar.
She claimed that Rasheed had been seen in several photographs with Chaudhry Sarwar, Sheikh Rashid and Ijaz Chaudhry, the PTI Central Punjab president, adding that he had also contested local government election on a PTI ticket and was a member of PTI labour wing.
She also indicated that the complainant Badar Rasheed had a criminal past and was allegedly involved in several criminal cases. She said that at least five cases were registered against Rasheed including those on charges of robbery and attempted murder.
Responding to the allegations, Sarwar denied association with Rasheed though Rasheed’s pictures with Sarwar are circulating on TV and social media. The sedition case … “has nothing to do with the Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government, including me,” the governor said.
Speaking to reporters after presiding over a seminar on ‘National Message of Pakistan’ here, the Punjab governor stressed the need for investigating as to “why and who” registered the case. “I think this case should not have been registered,” he added.
About the pictures circulating on social media, the governor said the photographs of Rasheed were with different political leaders. “People come to meet me at the Governor’s House. If a person files a lawsuit against someone, it doesn’t mean that I am behind it,” he maintained.
Some channels had linked Rasheed to the PTI Youth Wing, Ravi Town, Lahore chapter. However, PTI Central Punjab President Ijaz Chaudhry rejected such reports, saying that there was no youth wing of the PTI in Central Punjab.
“There is no connection of the party with the complainant, Badar Rasheed. In fact, Badar Rasheed feels proud to be a worker of the PML-N,” he said and added that there was nothing new in politicians’ pictures with common citizens.
However, all these clarifications and explanations failed to placate the opposition party, which remained firm on its stance that the government was behind the registration of the case. “You can expect anything from him [prime minister],” PML-N Information Secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb said.
In her media talk, Aurangzeb also referred to an interview of former director general of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Bashir Memon, who claimed that during his tenure, he was told by the “highest office” to file terrorism case against Maryam Nawaz’s social media cell.
Aurangzeb said that Memon had said that Imran called him into his office and ordered him to lodge cases against the entire Sharif family. Imran also specifically ordered that terrorism charges be brought against Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz and Captain Safdar.
After these revelations by Bashir Memon, she said, the PML-N demands that Imran resign and answer all these allegations. She also demanded that all frivolous cases that Bashir Memon refused to register should be withdrawn and all those in illegal detention should be released.
Later in the day, Special Assistant to Prime Minister Dr Shahbaz Gill responded to the buzz in the media over the FIR, saying that only one aspect of this issue was being discussed, and asked why other issues related to it were not being debated.
“Why the real issue is not being discussed,” Gill said in a tweet. “Why the anti-state talk of Nawaz Sharif is not being debated. Why he [Nawaz] created problems for several of his party workers,” Gill said in a video message posted on his Twitter account.
“Then it is stated that he [Rasheed] has relationship with Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. It is not. His brother was [linked to the PTI] but he never served on any party office. But regardless, if one is an office-bearer of a party, does it mean his right as a private citizen had been done away with.”
With input from News Desk