Tuesday Aug 11, 2020
LAHORE: PML-N supporters and police engaged in violent clashes on Tuesday outside the National Accountability Bureau’s office, where the party’s vice president Maryam Nawaz had been summoned to respond in a case of alleged illegal transfer of government land.
Whereas Maryam branded the incident “state-sponsored terrorism” and said the government is "afraid of losing grip on power", NAB said it had never in its 20 years of existence ever experienced such “hooliganism” whereby its offices were vandalised.
What should have been a routine appearance before the anti-graft body, turned into a series of events that ran late into the evening, with the party as well as government officials engaged in an effort to seize the narrative.
While Maryam accused the police of firing tear gas shells and baton-charging party workers, and moreover of a deliberate attempt to cause her injury, the government said the violence was initiated by PML-N which has a “history” of “launching attacks against law enforcement”.
Matters were intensified after footage available with Geo News showed what appeared to be PML-N workers loading rocks in plastic bags onto a double cabin vehicle.
Later on, as many as two dozen of the party's workers were arrested, with the government vowing to hold all those responsible to account.
Maryam, in a press conference following the clashes, said she had been on her way to the anti-graft body’s Lahore offices and “had no idea” of the huge crowd that had gathered outside.
Flanked by PML-N leaders, Rana Sanaullah, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Marriyum Aurangzeb and others, she called today’s incident an act of “state-sponsored terrorism" witnessed by her personally.
“According to internal surveys that the government does not release to the public, the popularity graph of the PML-N has risen, especially in Punjab, and the PTI government is now afraid of losing their grip on power,” Maryam added.
She said she was outside and awaiting entry when the Bureau announced via a statement that today’s proceedings had been delayed owing to the increasingly deteriorating law and order situation outside the office.
“It is a moment to ponder over, not for me or the PML-N, but for the 'fake and selected’ government,” she said, lamenting the treatment meted out to “unarmed party workers”.
“I saw for the first time stoning, NAB's thuggery and tear-gas shelling but the workers remained steadfast,” she said.
She said that despite the shelling and the injuries, the workers stood by her. “I salute them.”
Quoting former Punjab law minister Rana Sanaullah, she said that the party will provide legal assistance to the arrested and detained workers.
Calling the guards “unsung heroes”, the PML-N leader said she could not initially ascertain where the stones were being hurled from, adding that she narrowly escaped a head would or a similarly grave injury.
“Pervaiz Rasheed was in the car with me. He told me that it was a bulletproof car otherwise the stones and bricks would have hit my head,” Maryam said, adding that the NAB after calling her to the “place of vengeance,” told her to return after the scuffle broke out.
The PML-N leader condemned the government for having arrested Jang/Geo Media Group Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman. She said that the government was trying to suppress the voice of the media.
Referring indirectly to railways minister Sheikh Rashid, Maryam said, "A minister said he would speak to Imran Khan about releasing Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman. Was it Imran Khan who arrested Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman or was it NAB?" she asked.
Referring to JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman's upcoming All-Parties Conference, she said that former prime minister Nawaz Sharif had instructed the party leadership to cooperate with other Opposition parties to present a united front.
"If Maulana sahab has any reservations, the PML-N will remove them. So there is no need to worry about this," said Maryam.
In a video that she posted on Twitter, Maryam alleged that police pelted stones at her car which cracked her bulletproof vehicle's windshield. She also accused police of firing tear gas shells and baton-charging party workers.
In another video she posted on Twitter showing the cracked windshield of her car, the PML-N leader said, "Pelting stones at my car, police have broken its windshield. This is a bulletproof car and police are pelting stones and shelling [PML-N workers] in front of NAB's office to instigate workers," she said.
PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif criticised police for allegedly assaulting the party's workers, stating that it was a "shameful" incident.
In a press release, NAB Lahore said that it had summoned the PML-N vice president to hear her stance on the case registered against her.
The Bureau alleged that PML-N workers pelted stones and were involved in "hooliganism" at the time of her appearance.
NAB said that it had been treated like this for the first time in the 20 years since the Bureau had been created, stating that its building's windows had been broken and staffers injured.
It announced that proceedings against Maryam had been postponed and it condemned PML-N workers for interfering in legal matters in an "organised" way.
The Bureau said that it will register FIRs against PML-N representatives and leaders for interfering in the legal process.
As many as two dozen PML-N workers were arrested by police after the supporters dispersed.
Lambasting the government for the violence meted out on the PML-N party workers earlier in the day, Khawaja Asif said that thousands of people, who had gathered near the NAB office, would have been dispersed peacefully if Maryam was allowed to record her statement.
"Our party workers were ruthlessly attacked with tear-gas and stones," he lashed out.
Noting that there is usually a heavy contingent of police deployed near the office already, the PML-N stalwart said: "Who would dare to engage in violence in the presence of security forces. It is the Punjab government that saw to the deterioration of the situation."
The PML-N leader went on to add that the rest of the Opposition leaders have also condemned today's incident and demanded that the detained workers be freed.
"If nothing will be done to address the situation, then the incumbent government will be responsible for the consequences," he added.
Responding to Asif's allegations, Foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said that the question to be asked is why such an accident took place at all.
"There should be an investigation of the incident. I don't think that the Punjab government or anyone else can benefit from planning such a plot," he said, adding that police are usually hesitant to be a part of such an incident.
The federal minister then said that ministers have been appearing before the accountability court in the past but no such incident took place, therefore, today's incident should be thoroughly investigated.
Later, the PTI leadership in Punjab warned of action against those involved in pelting stones at the police personnel present outside the NAB office.
Punjab Minister for Law Raja Basharat said PML-N has repeated its "history of attacking the Supreme Court", adding that institutions and law enforcement agencies are not safe from the PML-N's "hooligans".
"The government took all necessary measures to establish its writ and action will be taken against all those who gathered there illegally and those who pelted stones at police officers stationed there," he said.
Punjab Minister for Information Fayyaz ul Hassan Chohan said that for the first time in 20 years since the establishment of NAB, the building's windows had been smashed. He accused Maryam of "carrying forward her family's traditions" of "launching attacks" against law enforcement.
Chohan claimed that nearly Rs1 million were distributed among people at Jati Umra prior to today's clashes.
PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari tweeted in support of Maryam, condemning the "use of force" against her and PML-N party workers.
"Condemn the unnecessary use of force, teargas and stone pelting on Maryam Nawaz Sharif and her party workers by police in Lahore today," he tweeted.
The Bureau has accused Maryam of receiving 200 acres of what was supposed to be government land in Raiwind. The sources said that the transfer was done during DC Noor-ul-Amin Mengal and former DG LDA Ahad Cheema's tenure.
NAB had also summoned Mengal along with the LDA officials of that time with records, sources said.
A tract of land, stretching over 3,568 kanals, was bought by the Sharif family in 2013. The largest part of the property, 1,936 kanals, was transferred in the name of Nawaz and Shehbaz Sharif’s mother Shamim Bibi. The amount of land that was transferred to Maryam from that tract was 1,440 kanals.
Sources had added that a 96 kanal plot each was also transferred to former prime minister Nawaz and Shehbaz.