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Khawaja Saad Rafique-Asif Kirmani differences

18 May, 2018

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LAHORE: Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique has played down his reported altercation with Asif Kirmani, political secretary to PML-N supreme leader Nawaz Sharif, over the former prime minister’s interview published on May 12.

“We [Kirmani and me] have not exchanged harsh words. Mr Kirmani is respectable to me. The PML-N is united under the leadership of Nawaz Sharif. Difference of opinion is expressed politely [in party meetings].

“We all are upholders of the party narrative — ‘give respect to the ballot’ — and a debate on the party’s strategy is a continuous political process,” Mr Rafique said when he was asked about a “verbal clash” with Mr Kirmani at a party meeting in Islamabad on Wednesday.

A PML-N leader present at the meeting said on Thursday that Mr Rafique and Mr Kirmani exchanged harsh words over the issue of Mr Sharif’s interview that was published in Dawn. “Saad asked Kirmani how could he allow that reporter [Cyril Almeida] to interview Mr Sharif, knowing well about the episode of ‘news leak’ of October 2016,” he said.

At this, Mr Kirmani said his duty was to facilitate interaction of his boss [Mr Sharif] with media personnel. “It is your fault that the party is facing a lot of criticism as you have damaged the party, Saad told Kirmani.”

He said the two leaders exchanged barbs just after the meeting had ended. “Mr Sharif was not close to them, otherwise he might have stopped them from fighting over this issue,” he added.

Another PML-N leader said that Mr Kirmani kept on calling Mr Rafique a “spy” who leaked proceedings of party meetings to others [an apparent reference to the establishment].

“At this Saad Rafique got furious and declared him [Mr Kirmani] a ‘personal employee’. ‘How dare you discredit my struggle of 40 years,’ retorted Saad. ‘My loyalty to the party and Nawaz Sharif is unquestionable’,” he said.

When contacted, PML-N’s information secretary and Climate Change Minister Mushahidullah Khan only confirmed that Mr Rafique and Mr Kirmani bickered over a matter after a party meeting in Islamabad. “However, it was not something unusual. It was a petty matter and should not be blown out of proportion,” he said.

When asked if Mr Sharif would soften his stance on state institutions at the request of PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif, the minister said: “Mr Sharif has already made it clear what the party’s narrative is.... He and his party want that other institutions should not be involved in politics and should let the politicians do their job.

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