ISLAMABAD - After days of denials, the rift between the ruling party and one of its key functionaries over the way to deal with the Panama issue has come into the open.

Interior Minister Ch Nisar Ali yesterday issued a strong-worded rebuttal to the remarks of Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal – who had criticised his colleague in a private TV channel programme.

“The government minister (Ahsan) should avoid giving wrong and irrational statements over the speech of [the] interior minister made in the [Thursday’s] cabinet meeting,” a statement issued by the interior ministry said.

“Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan never made the statement in the cabinet meeting which is being attributed to him by the minister,” said spokesperson Aslam Shahid.

The minister is repeating this wrong statement, he said. “Unluckily, these wrong statements are being given by such ministers who have pushed the government to the brink,” the spokesperson concluded.

It was reported earlier that Nisar, in the cabinet meeting, had advised Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif against being swayed by the opinion of the appeasers and avoid a clash with other state institutions.

But the government denied the reports that interior minister had any disagreement with the party leadership and the majority of his colleagues over tackling the crisis, created from a highly damning report by the JIT that probed the financial affairs of Sharif family as part of the Panama Papers case.

Ahsan Iqbal, while talking to a TV programme over the rift within the government ranks, said that Thursday’s cabinet meeting fully showed solidarity with the prime minister.

“The meeting was unanimous in its view that the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) had not done justice from its formation to conclusion and the government should defend itself before the SC,” he said.

The planning minister claimed that the cabinet and the Parliamentary Party of PML-N were united and understood that the investigation was a political agenda and had no purpose to hold any accountability. “Its purpose is not different from first and second sit-in,” he added.

About the speech of interior minister in the cabinet meeting, Ahsan said that everyone in the party had their own view but “no one is breaking from the party line or the prime minister”.

Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said in the meeting that he was affiliated with PML-N for last 35 years and was proud of his loyalty with it, Ahsan said.

“I am not seeing any rift. Anyone could have their own view on the issue but this does not mean that there is difference within party and the whole party is united at this front. We will face this crisis that has been imposed on us,” he added.

But then came the critical comment that forced Nisar to issue the warning.

In a not-so-veiled reference to Nisar’s behaviour, Ahsan Iqbal said that when there was a turf war going on, one should see the benefit of the party and close ranks.

“When a conspiracy is being hatched against PM, my character would be identified that either I come out with some complaint sheets or stand by him - keeping in view his previous favours,” he said.

The cabinet meeting was summoned by the prime minister to demonstrate his government’s unity amid the prevailing political crisis, and show that they all were unanimous over the way the Panama scandal was being handled.

But Nisar’s speaking his mind and expressing his disagreement was seen by many as a sinister.

The interior minister advised the government to avoid direct confrontation with the state institutions, the judiciary and the military, on the Panama leaks issue.

He asked for holding consultations and even criticised some of his cabinet colleagues for flattering the leadership and not giving it serious piece of advice to come out of the crisis.

The minister left the meeting before time and did not turn up in the Friday’s parliamentary party’s meeting - which was also summoned for the same purpose.

Over past three days, Nisar issued at least three clarifications-cum-rebuttals against media reports about his movements and interactions - following the submission of the JIT report before the Supreme Court.

Nisar, Ahsan clash in public

IMRAN MUKHTAR