The Sharif family’s Jati Umra estate has set off a fresh verbal duel between the PTI government and its political arch-nemesis, the PML-N.
The two sides amped up rhetoric on Saturday as Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry threatened to lodge a terrorism case against PML-N leader Rana Sanaullah, who called his bluff challenging him to carry out the threat.
Rana allegedly threatened Punjab’s top administrator over the cancellation of the Jati Umrah estate lease. Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, however, said his administration would not give in to any pressure.
Rana claimed that the Punjab government has cancelled a 60-year-old allotment of a piece of land that falls in the precincts of the Sharif family’s Jati Umrah estate without following due process of law.
Speaking at a news conference, he said no legal notices were issued to the former owner of the land, Waheeda Begum, who had sold it to Begum Shamim Akhtar.
He issued a veiled threat to the provincial chief secretary and Lahore’s commissioner, who he said were “upright officers”, saying that a government officer should not work like PTI workers.
“Chief secretary, you and your children will live here,” Rana said. “Commissioner Lahore, you have a career ahead of you and you too will live here, unlike Imran Khan, whose children are abroad and he too will leave Pakistan on completion of his term.”
“If tomorrow, these government officers take the excuse that they were under pressure, it would not be acceptable [to the PML-N],” he added.
Fawad Chaudhry was quick to react. Rana Sanaullah has threatened Punjab’s chief secretary, Lahore’s commissioner and other officers and a case would be registered against him under the Anti-Terrorism Act and related laws.
“Instructions are being given [to lodge the case against Rana],” the minister said, while speaking after a visit to the Rawalpindi DHQ Hospital, where he had gone to enquire after the health of the police personnel injured in the recent violent protests in the province.
“No one can be allowed to intimidate government officials and their families,” the minister said. “If he wants to do politics, he has to do so within the limits of the Constitution and respect the law,” he added, while responding to a question.
“Often Rana Sanaullah is interested to act like [Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) founder] Altaf Hussain,” he said. “If there are derogatory remarks about the institutions, or the officers are threatened or the institutions are blackmailed, then surely there will be action,” he added.
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Chaudhry said there was no plan to demolish any house in Jati Umra. However, he warned that nobody would be “allowed to occupy the state land”.
Chaudhry explained that action was being taken in the light of a report presented to the prime minister a few months back that certain members of the National Assembly had occupied the state land, including the Khokhar brothers.
The prime minister had ordered an inquiry into the matter, the minister said, adding that the Punjab government acted on the inquiry, marked by the prime minister and land worth billions of rupees have been recovered from encroachers.
Likewise, he pointed out, it came to the knowledge that the state land in Jati Umra had been transferred in the name of an old woman, which was a benami transaction and then the land was transferred in the name of Nawaz Sharif’s mother.
The Revenue Department had declared that the land had been given illegally, the minister continued. Notices were served and the related procedure was being adopted to recover the land and the other side had the right to challenge the process and they had done so.
Chaudhry emphasised that the government’s job was to investigate and after submitting details before the courts, adding that later it was up to the courts to decide the matter.
In a statement in Lahore, Chief Minister Buzdar said Rana’s remarks about government officials were aimed at covering up their corruption, which he described as “very regrettable and immoral”.
“No government official would succumb to pressure of the corrupt gangs,” he said and warned that those who made threats would be dealt with will severely. “Threats are illegal, the era of harassment and dismissal has passed. Now, everything is done on merit.”
Buzdar said the opposition leaders were in a dilemma after they were exposed for their corruption. “Blaming government officials to cover up their corruption is reprehensible,” he said, adding that he was with “honest and hardworking government officials”.
Rana challenged Chaudhry to carry out his threat. He asked him to become a plaintiff in the terrorism case against him. “I will stand by my position ... threats cannot hold me back.”
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PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb referred to the prime minister’s hard-hitting speeches while he was staging dharna in the federal capital from August to December 2014 and the incidents of violence, including attacks on the PTV headquarters.
“Before registering a terrorism case against the PML-N Punjab President Rana Sanaullah, the imposed PTI government must prosecute Imran [Khan] who is an absconder in a terrorism case,” she said in a series of tweets, while responding to Chaudhry’s statement.