Lawmakers who support Jahangir Tareen met with Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday to share their grievances over an ongoing crackdown against the ruling PTI’s former secretary general but failed to convince the PM to form a judicial commission to probe into the allegations against Tareen.
A total of 28 PTI lawmakers – including both National Assembly members and provincial assembly members – called on the prime minister for “seeking justice” for the disgruntled PTI leader who is among the sugar mills owners facing Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) crackdown.
Punjab Governor Chaudhry Sarwar was also present in the meeting.
According to sources, MNA Raja Riaz, provincial minister Nauman Langrial, provincial adviser Abdul Hai Dasti and MPA Nazir Chohan presented before the premier the grievances of the estranged PTI lawmakers who now tag themselves as the “hum khayal” – like minded – group.
They highlighted Jahangir Tareen’s contributions to the party and emphasized that they were not asking for any favour but only wanted justice for Tareen.
They accused that apparently Adviser to the Prime Minister on Accountability Shahzad Akbar was targeting Tareen. They claimed that the investigation against the PTI leader was started after a sugar crisis “but when they could not find anything they started registering unrelated cases against Tareen”.
During the meeting which last for almost one hour, the lawmakers requested the premier to form a judicial commission comprising three former judges – Justice (retd) Sair Ali, Justice (retd)Tassaduq Hussain Jillani and Justice (retd) Nasirul Mulk to probe into allegations against Tareen.
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They also demanded that Shahzad Akbar and his team might be sidelined.
However, the premier turned down the request. Addressing the participants, the prime minister asked whether they trusted him or not.
“My policy is clear. I don’t even believe in doing injustice even to my political opponents during the accountability process. Jahangir Tareen is my personal friend and an important leader of the party. However, we are all accountable to law,” Imran was quoted as saying.
The premier said the PTI came into power with the slogan of merit and justice. He said when the price of sugar started to surge last year then it became the duty of the government to bring those responsible for it to book.
“I want to assure you that we will not do injustice to anyone,” he said.
In the media briefing after the Cabinet meeting, Federal Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhry confirmed that a group of PTI lawmakers put their reservations before the premier and explained their point of view in detail.
“The prime minister admitted that Tareen is a key PTI leader. He has worked hard for the party and he personally regards him. However, the premier made it clear that there can’t be different standards for ‘our people’ and others as it goes against the party’s principles,” he said.
“PM Imran said neither the FIA nor any other institution would be influenced at any cost to give someone any kind of relaxation in the ongoing inquiries,” the minister added.
Chaudhry said the PM has, however, tasked Senator Ali Zafar to look into the reservations of lawmakers and their complaint that a deliberate or politically motivated attempt is being made to malign Jahangir. “Zafar would hear both sides and submit a report to the PM,” he added.
He confirmed that the prime minister did not accept the PTI lawmakers' demand to form a judicial commission to probe the issue arising out of the FIA probe into the sugar scam. “The demand was not accepted because it would give an impression that there is a body over the FIA,” he added.
Talking to The Express Tribune, Salman Naeem – one of the members of Tareen group – said the prime minister assured the lawmakers that he would personally monitor the investigations being conducted by Senator Ali Zafar into the claims that cases against Tareen are being influenced from Islamabad.
Naeem revealed that the PM was surprised on several occasions when he was being briefed about the facts related to the FIA cases. “The premier’s body language suggested that he wasn’t properly briefed about the contents of the FIRs and the overall matter earlier,” he claimed.
Naeem admitted that the premier turned down the group’s request to form a judicial commission but added that the Tuesday meeting with the PM was conducted in a cordial environment.
“The PM has assured the lawmakers that he would personally look into the allegations of things being influenced from Islamabad, allegedly by his advisor on accountability, but he would not constitute a commission as it would be tantamount to influencing the ongoing investigations.
“PM sahib assured us that he would make sure that no one is wronged,” Naeem said.
When asked if a one-on-one meeting between PM and Tareen is on the cards, Naeem said Tareen has not yet asked for any such meeting.
Naeem said no time-frame was set for Ali Zafar to conclude the inquiry, adding the lawmakers would gather again on May 3 when Taren has a court hearing. “We will see what happens till then,” he said.
Tareen was once considered a close friend of Prime Minister Imran Khan. However, the PTI’s former secretary general was side-lined after an inquiry report about a sugar crisis accused him of benefiting from a steep hike in prices of the commodity in January 2020.
As the FIA intensified its probe into Tareen’s alleged role in the sugar crisis, a number of PTI lawmakers started rallying around him with speculations about emergence of a possible forward bloc in the PTI.
According to reports, an iftar dinner organized last Wednesday for the like-minded lawmakers at Tareen’s residence was cancelled at the eleventh hour after the Prime Minister’s Office green-lighted a meeting between the premier and Tareen.
The sugar inquiry commission – led by the FIA – had accused sugar mill owners of earning illegal profits worth billions of rupees through unjustified price hikes, benami transactions, tax evasion, misuse of subsidy and purchasing sugarcane off the books.
The commission had also pointed out that the country’s top politicians – including PML-N’s Shehbaz Sharif, PTI’s Jahangir Tareen and Khusro Bakhtiar, PML-Q’s Moonis Elahi and PPP’s Asif Ali Zardari – were also among the beneficiaries of the crisis.
It is widely believed that despite being out of the power corridors, Tareen still wields significant influence over a good number of MNAs and MPAs. Meanwhile, in the recent past, the group loyal to the PTI stalwart has been critical of the governance-style of Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar.
[WITH INPUT FROM RIZWAN SHEHZAD IN ISLAMABAD]