The Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz has always claimed that it believes in politics of values (aqdaar), not power (iqtidar). But in practice, it is doing the opposite. People who stabbed the Sharifs in the back by joining hands with Gen Musharraf, or have been criticising them for choosing to go into the exile when they should have confronted the man who had overthrown their government, are returning in droves to the PML-N fold. The party welcomes those with a chance to get elected in the upcoming elections. With the motivation to ensure a comfortable majority in the polls to be able to form government at the centre and in provinces, this single consideration has taken centre stage as election fever rises.

In an interview at the Arfa Karim IT Tower, where Punjab Chief Minister and the provincial president of the PML-N, Mian Shahbaz Sharif has a new office in addition to about half a dozen offices elsewhere in the metropolis, The Nation confronted him with this question.

In response, Shahbaz Sharif said it was an unfortunate part of politics.

“This practice should be changed. A conscious effort should be made for the purpose. But it will take us time to uproot it.”

He said as for Amir Muqam and Marvi Memon’s decision to join the PML-N it was the result of mutual understanding. The party had let them in after proper consultations, he said.

The family, once known for its role in the industrial sector, has monopolised politics, especially in the Punjab, over the last few decades. Mian Nawaz Sharif, Mian Shahbaz Sharif, Hamza Shahbaz, Maryam Nawaz, husband Capt. Safdar and many others are playing a role in the party and the government. Yet, the CM is a fierce opponent of the idea of dynastic politics.

“I am against dynastic politics. There is urgent need to change this trend, which is also there in other parties. For this purpose a methodology should be evolved at the national level.

“Once honesty and integrity are made the basic values of politics, dynastic politics will come to an end.

“The Election Commission and the Supreme Court also has an important role to play in this regard,” the Chief Minister said.

Questioned why there was so much uncertainty about the elections, which are due after a few months, the Chief Minister said such an impression was being created by the elements who did not want Pakistan to progress. Some foreign elements and those who were seeing the writing on the wall (about their bleak future) are also behind the campaign.

He said he could not say whether some emergency situation could crop up at the eleventh hour. But in case there was any such development, it would be catastrophic.

He was of the view that the elections should be held on time, in a transparent way, and the entire nation should participate in the process.

These elections, Sharif said, would have a direct bearing on the survival of the country. In a way, the war for the survival of the country would be fought through these polls.

People should turn the direction of history by giving a “full mandate” to a party they like. A split mandate would not serve any purpose.

A party with a full mandate would be in a better position to serve the masses, bring back home the looted wealth from other countries.

It may be pointed out that the PML-N had got a two-thirds majority as a result of the 1997 elections, but could not complete its term because of differences with Gen Musharraf. He was sacked by then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, when he was returning home after participating in a conference in Colombo.

Mian Shahbaz Sharif, asked what was Dr Tahirul Qadri up to and if he could cause a delay in the elections, said the Pakistan Awami Tehrik chairman posed no threat at all. He said anybody who tried to get the elections delayed would cause a blow to national interests.

The PAT chairman addressed a big public meeting in Lahore on December 23 and gave the government until January 10 to reform the electoral system. He said in case the government failed to meet the demand with the given deadline, his supporters would converge on Islamabad on January 14 and then the ‘people’s parliament’ would take the necessary decisions.

The PML-N leaders allege that Dr Qadri had been sent by various powers to block Mr Nawaz Sharif’s return to power.

Asked about the justification for the PML-N MNA Jafar Iqbal to call for the replacement of the parliamentary system of government with presidential, the chief minister said the leader from Rahim Yar Khan did not have party’s backing on the issue.

“The country’s situation is not conducive for a new controversy. It will give birth to new apprehensions in people’s minds,” Sharif said.

If the party is not supporting what he was saying and why he was not stopped from propagating his view in favour of presidential system, the Chief Minister promised that he would tell the former deputy speaker of the National Assembly that what he was saying was not the party line.

(It was reported on Dec 26 that Mr Sharif gave Jafar Iqbal a Senate ticket as a birthday gift)

When pointed out that if he completed his term as Chief Minister the dissolution of the Punjab Assembly would be possible much after other legislatures as a result of which holding of elections in all provinces at the same time would not be possible, Shahbaz Sharif said his term would expire by middle of April, which meant that he had more than four months to go. However, he said, it was his party which would take a final decision on whether he should complete his term or quit with others.

When pointed out that he had pledged not to accept foreign aid, but there were some Britain-financed projects doing marvellous work in Punjab, he neatly side-stepped with the deflection that he was opposed to aid with strings that compromised national sovereignty.

In response to another question, the Chief Minister said despite a very unfavourable situation in the country he had succeeded in persuading some foreign investors to invest in Punjab. Turkey, he said, was coming in a big way, which reflected their trust in the government of the province.

“An investor knows how to take to take care of his own interests before taking a decision about using their money in the projects of a foreign country.

“The experience of the Turkish companies working with Punjab has been marvellous. Turks have become our ambassadors (in their country)”, Sharif said.

He insisted that the Punjab government was corruption-free, and supported his contention with a report of the Transparency International.

Asked if he had a similar certification from some local institution in favour of his government, the Chief Minister said he had been sending reports of all projects costing more than Rs 50 million to the National Accountability Bureau, and so far the watchdog had not raised objection on any of them. This, he said, means that everything was fine in Punjab.

He further said that he had introduced a third-party audit system for all important projects. This too had pointed out no irregularity whatsoever.

As for the NAB chairman’s assertion that the country was losing up to Rs 12 billion a day to corruption and Punjab was responsible for 65 per cent of the menace, he said apportionment of the curse on the basis of population was insulting for the people of Punjab. “Are those sitting in the federal government angels?”

Then he himself answered the question and said the fountains of corruption were emanating from the federal government.

He branded President Zardari as the ‘king of corruption’ and ‘respectfully’ urged him to bring back home the national wealth he had looted and siphoned abroad.

When asked why the PML-N had not tried to dislodge such a corrupt government and, instead, helped it complete its term, the Chief Minister said his party did not have the required numerical strength in parliament to do this. And if the party had still tried to vote the rulers out, the latter would have started an unprecedented horse trading.

He alleged that the federal government had caused loss of billions of rupees through the NICL and urea scams. Billions had also been skimmed through power projects, he added.

In response to a question about allegations against the Punjab despite the fact that it sacrificed by giving a part of its share in water and finances resources to smaller provinces, he said although at times Punjab had made mistakes, the allegations were not always well-unfounded.

He argued that not all military dictators belonged to Punjab. He said Yahya Khan and Ayub Khan were not from the Punjab.

Still, he said, military operations in Balochistan were uncalled for. Those in power should have settled all differences through talks.

About his newfound ‘love’ for Indian leaders, he said in all his interactions he had raised the issues of Kashmir and water. Defending his initiative, he said a day would come when the ‘knee-jerk’ reaction given by his critics would prove wrong.

Sharif said a military war was not the option to settle disputes between the two nuclear powers. In case of nuclear war there would be no survivors.

He cited China’s example in support of his interactions with Indian leaders. “China has a claim over Taiwan and was in a position to take control of it. But it is exercising restraint and trying to find a negotiated settlement. It ‘regained’ Hong Kong after prolonged talks and had shown enough flexibility by going for a “One State- Two Systems” idea,” Sharif explained.

He believed that a day would come when Kashmir would become part of Pakistan.

Responding to a question about Kalabagh Dam, he said it was an important project. However, he hastened to add that it should be set up only after national consensus.

He claimed that the Metro Bus project had cost only Rs 30 billion and allegations that it was being completed at a cost of Rs 80 billion was totally baseless.

(The NAB has called for a report about the project).

The Chief Minister refuted the impression that he was focused on the development of Lahore. According to him, he had allocated Rs 270 billion to South Punjab, compared to Rs 68 billion during the period of Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi.