ISLAMABAD: Amid prime ministerial-level protocol and fanfare, Prime Minister’s daughter Maryam Nawaz on Wednesday made her maiden appearance before the joint investigation team (JIT) probing the Sharif family’s offshore properties.
Many an eyebrow was raised to see the PM’s daughter – who is not even a government functionary or a public office-bearer – getting the VVIP protocol and security at public’s expense.
Maryam, who is widely tipped to be the political heir apparent of Nawaz Sharif, is accused of being the owner of one of the offshore companies through which the flats were purchased.
Maryam denied the allegations, saying she was only a trustee-owner of the company that belongs to her brother.
In an apparent negation of prescribed procedures, a woman police officer saluted the ‘first daughter’ on her arrival at the Federal Judicial Academy located in Sector H-8/4 of the federal capital where the JIT is functioning.
Maryam’s husband Captain (retd) Safdar, brothers Hussain Nawaz and Hassan Nawaz, relative and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Maryam Aurangzeb, PM’s Adviser Ameer Muqam, PM’s Political Adviser Asif Kirmani and other government functionaries and party leaders accompanied her in a convoy of over a dozen luxurious vehicles.
“This is the first JIT of its kind in the world that does not know what allegation it is probing,” Maryam told the media, on her way back to the PM House, after less than two hours of interrogation.
“They asked me questions, I replied… and when [the] interrogation ended, I asked them ‘what exactly is the allegation against me?’ They were answerless. Despite my name not being [mentioned] in the Supreme Court’s order in the Panamagate case, I appeared before the JIT and paid the debt I did not owe,” she said.
In an apparent contradiction to Maryam’s statement, the top court has mentioned her as respondent number six in its order in the Panamagate case dated April 20.
Maryam alleged that the JIT was working to “find an excuse against the PM to frame him”.
“The questions the JIT asked me are about our family business and my deceased grandfather. There is nothing about my father’s three tenures as PM – because he is clean. He presented himself for accountability without seeking immunity as premier,” she said.
Without naming Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan, the PM’s daughter said, “One person is destroying his life and hereafter by misleading the nation.”
She ‘revealed’ that naming her in the Dawn leaks controversy was a ‘conspiracy’ to “put [my] father under pressure using [his] daughter’s name.” However, she skipped mentioning as to who wanted to ‘pressurise’ her father.
“Nawaz Sharif would be the PM for the fourth and fifth terms, and thereafter also. Stop him if you can,” she said before leaving the venue without answering journalists’ questions about the money trail in Panamagate.
A visibly irked Hussain Nawaz took the dais then and replied to the media-persons, “You go and ask the person about the money trail who has an offshore company but no money trail.” He was referring to the PTI chairman.
The VVIP protocol accorded to Maryam was bound to attract outrage.
Khan took to Twitter to express his annoyance. “Inexplicable why private citizen Maryam getting official protocol with police saluting as she goes to appear before criminal investigation.”
PPP Vice-President Senator Sherry Rehman shared her outrage over what she termed a ‘woman card’ played by the ruling lot. The senator tweeted that she “was made a missing person in a Punjab safe house after lockup in police thaana; never invoked the woman card, I was a PPP member led by SMBB (Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto).”
Political analyst Kanwar Dilshad said the drama to give unnecessary protocol to Maryam was staged to project that another PM is in the making.
“The way a woman civil servant saluted the PM’s daughter and then Maryam’s pen got dropped on the floor when she came out of her car – only to be picked up by the ‘efficient’ lady police officer – was a highly submissive gesture: that the state machinery is bowing down before the ‘future PM’, the successor of the Sharif dynasty.”
In connection with Maryam’s arrival, all routes leading to and from the FJA were sealed for public movement, and barbed wires were erected along the FJA. Up to 3,000 security personnel – including Rangers and policemen – were deployed for her security.
Residents of the nearby streets of Sector I-8/3 were not allowed to move outside their homes till Maryam left the interrogation site. Traffic at adjoining premises of the FJA either remained stranded or moved at a snail’s pace due to the heightened security measures.
Still, PML-N leaders seemed displeased over Maryam having summoned by the JIT.
“They should have some ‘morals’ before asking a woman to appear before the JIT,” stated PML-N lawmaker Maiza Hameed.
When journalists reminded her of harsh interrogations faced by ex-prime minister Benazir Bhutto during the Zia era and the PML-N’s previous tenure, and the detention of another PPP leader Shehla Raza in politically motivated cases in the past, Maiza landed on the defensive.
“No, the Sharif family is ready to face accountability. It’s just that… it’s not good to summon women, you know,” she said.
PM’s Political Adviser Asif Kirmani went on to equate Wednesday’s appearance of Maryam before the JIT to overthrowing of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government in a coup led by Gen Ziaul Haq in 1977 – both happened on July 5.
“Then, an elected government was sent packing and later the prime minister was hanged. Today, on July 5, conspiracies are being hatched against the democratic government and the prime minister,” he said.
Kirmani slammed the two JIT members for “flying [off] to Dubai in business class”, allegedly at public’s expense, but skipped to mention why state resources were used to accord a prime ministerial-level protocol to the PM’s daughter.
Another PML-N Federal Minister, Tariq Fazal Chaudhry, sounded overly emotional. “Our sister is facing interrogation. We are facing this discriminatory accountability – the way we always had.”
NAB Chairman Qamar Zaman Chaudhry also appeared before the JIT after Maryam’s appearance on Wednesday. He brought along with him the official record pertaining to the Sharif family’s wealth to share with the JIT, sources said.
Meanwhile, the Registrar Office on Wednesday issued a cause list for the next week whereby the three-judge special bench will examine the final report of the JIT on July 10 at 1:00 pm.
However, some legal experts say the JIT may ask for a 15-day extension if the investigation could not be completed.
As the Panamagate investigation is entering its final round, a debate has started among legal experts over the future course of actions.
Lawyers are debating whether the same implementation bench will give the final ruling or new judges will be included in the bench for the purpose; whether the top court will allow both parties to file any objections to the JIT report or the bench will itself decide the question of the PM’s disqualification under Article 62(1)(f) after receiving the report.
The majority judges had, while giving their verdict on April 20, observed that after the receipt of the final report, the matter of PM’s disqualification shall be considered.
“If found necessary for passing an appropriate order in this behalf, respondent No 1 [PM] or any other person may be summoned and examined,” says the April 20 order.
A senior official says it is expected that the same bench will decide the fate of the Sharif family by giving a final verdict and notice will be issued to the respondents as well as the petitioner.
However, PTI’s lawyer Chaudhry Faisal Hussain believes that the order of the court dated April 20 reflects that the case is not being disposed of, hence it is being treated as a part heard case, pending adjudication before the same five-judge larger bench, headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa.
“The implementation bench was legally constituted to implement the court’s April 20 judgment and the matter will be referred to the same five-judge larger bench, which was headed by Justice Khosa,” he further states.
Some legal experts say that the two judges, who had already disqualified the PM in the April 20 verdict, will not sit in the bench to give the final ruling in the case.
Some of the lawyers think that if the matter was referred to the same larger bench then the two judges, namely Justice Khosa and Justice Gulzar Ahmad, may themselves recuse to hear the case.
Meanwhile, the three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar, will resume hearing of PML-N leader Hanif Abbasi’s petitions on July 11, seeking disqualification of PTI chief Imran Khan and party’s general secretary Jahangir Tareen over concealment of their assets.
(With additional input from Hasnaat Malik)