ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Senior Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Monday criticised party actions in a rare public display of disagreement with the top leadership, taking issue with party leader Jehangir Tareen attending high-level official meetings, as well as proposal for renaming the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP).
Addressing a press conference in Lahore, which was broadcast live on many private TV channels, the foreign minister also came down hard on the opposition. He advised his own party to focus on work instead of concentrating on names of certain programmes and schemes.
Qureshi termed the talk of changing name of the BISP a move to blow up a non-issue. "I have my finger on pulse of the people. Nothing could be more foolish in politics than turning a non-issue into an issue," Qureshi, who once served as the foreign minister in the former Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)-led government before joining the PTI, said.
"I have spent 25 years in politics and climbed every ladder, starting from union council-level election,” Qureshi maintained. "The job of a sincere worker is to give a sincere suggestion to the leadership. The PTI leadership should focus on work and not the name,” he said, urging the PTI to focus on its anti-poverty "Ehsaas" programme.
Qureshi also lambasted senior PTI leader Jahangir Tareen for attending official meetings despite being disqualified by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. "It provided an opportunity to the dethroned opposition party [Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N)] for pointing fingers at the PTI," he said.
"It is because Maryum Aurangzeb [PML-N spokesperson] would hold press conference to raise question. If it is not contempt of court then what. If Nawaz Sharif was disqualified under Article 62 [of the Constitution], he became disqualified from holding any public office or portfolio," he said.
"How can the yardstick change if it [the disqualification] is invoked against us? The PTI workers are unable to comprehend it," he added. He termed Tareen's attending government meetings an insult to Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, who was then the head of the bench that passed the judgment against Tareen.
The minister acknowledged Tareen's services to party and his capabilities but stressed that there were rules to be followed. "It is not about personalities but the principles," he said. He asked Tareen to guide and help the party, while staying in the background. He advised Tareen to refrain from actions that lead to finger-pointing.
Qureshi congratulated the PTI for victory in PP-218 by-election. He said that PTI team made possible "what seemed to be impossible after an unholy alliance between the PPP and the PML-N". He said: "Whatever the leadership at the top decided if it was devoid of ground realities, public rejected it. It was practically demonstrated in the recent by-election."
An important aspect of Qureshi's press conference was that he sat next to Punjab Governor Chaudhry Sarwar. Qureshi also criticised the opposition PML-N and PPP leadership, particularly naming Shahbaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto for compromising on principles to form an alliance against the PTI for the sole purpose to defeating it in the by-election.
Qureshi's broadside against Tareen came under heavy criticism from several party leaders, as President Dr Arif Alvi, National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser and a number of federal and provincial ministers called Tareen to express their support for him.
The top party leaders have also conveyed their anger over Qureshi's statement to Prime Minister Imran Khan. According to close aides to the prime minister, Khan is not happy with Qureshi and has expressed his full-fledged confidence in Tareen.
Information minister Fawad Chaudhry said that the PTI was in power today because Tareen played an important role. Defence minister Pervez Khattak, Water Resources minister Faisal Vawda, Communications Minister Murad Saeed and others also issued statements in favour of Tareen.
Reacting to Qureshi's statement, Tareen said he was with Prime Minister Khan. "Wherever I go I go with the will and wish of PM Imran Khan," Tareen wrote on micro-blogging website Twitter. "There is only one person whom I consider as my leader, his name is Imran Khan," he tweeted. "Till my last breath in all tough and happy times I'll be standing by Imran Khan, what others say regarding this, I have no concerns with it."