ISLAMABAD: The war of words between the government and the opposition in the wake of the Panama leaks took an ugly turn on Tuesday when the leader of the opposition lashed out at the interior minister for resorting to “blackmail” and accused him of being disloyal to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
One would normally not expect Syed Khursheed Shah to lose his cool on the floor of the National Assembly.
A seasoned politician — who on Tuesday took the time to remind the house of his political credentials — the Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly has proven himself a tactful man on many occasions.
“I was watching the press conference yesterday, where [Chaudhry Nisar] was smiling as he pushed his knife deeper into Mian Nawaz Sharif,” he said, referring to the minister’s admission that the Mayfair apartments in London were indeed Nawaz Sharif’s.
“The entire dispute is that they were not declared,” Khursheed Shah said, referring to the statement of assets submitted to the Election Commission.
He also questioned the minister’s loyalty to his own party leader.
“A politician who sleeps soundly at home while his leader is in jail or exile is no lion,” — an apparent jibe at Nisar’s house arrest after the 1999 coup when the Sharif brothers had been packed off to Adiala Jail.
Mr Shah already set the tone for his speech when he opened by saying: “Parliament is the most important forum… bitter and sweet words are exchanged here, both harshly and softly. Lies are told and accusations are levelled.”
He insisted his political career was like an open book and expressed his disappointment at the allegations that were levelled against him by Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan.
“I’m a politician who started from the bottom as a student leader. I have seen the sacrifices of the martyred Bhuttos; I would rather die than commit corruption,” he roared.
He claimed he was still earning off the same business he opened in 1973 and insisted he had no offshore accounts, only two bank accounts.
In an apparent response to the interior minister’s own such offer, he asked that “the government investigate me and my assets. The inquiry committee should consist of government members, no one from the opposition. The day I take a single cent that is not mine will be my last day in Parliament.”
With every word steeped in irony, Khursheed Shah said: “I was a student leader when you were nothing. I’ve never switched party loyalties, never deceived my leaders; and I have never slept soundly at home after my leaders were exiled.”
Saying that Aitzaz Ahsan would respond to the allegations levelled against his person on his own, Khursheed Shah recounted the minister’s tirade against him.
“I have several files against opposition leader Khursheed Shah including NAB files,” he quoted Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan as saying, questioning the legal position of the NAB over passing on internal files to the minister even though it did not even come under the interior ministry.
“I’m waiting for the day when Shah speaks against me, then I’ll open those files,” he quoted the minister as saying, and sought an explanation from Law Minister Zahid Hamid.
“By saying that he will open these files if I challenge him, the minister is betraying the sacred trust of his office and resorting to statements that can only be described as blackmail.”
He also challenged the interior minister to present those files before the house, saying, “We’ll talk about this right now.”
Shah then asked the speaker that the house should appoint someone to lead an investigation into his (Shah’s) assets. “Please for God’s sake, all I ask is that investigations be held,” he hastily concluded.
He would’ve continued had a Turkish parliamentary delegation not arrived in the galleries at that very moment, prompting him to soften his tone.
It was much later in the day that Zahid Hamid got the chance to respond to Mr Shah’s tirade. Apart from taking exception to the opposition leader’s attacks on “perhaps the senior-most parliamentarian”, he said that the interior minister would respond himself — a sign that another Punjab House press conference may be on the cards.