March Issue 2019
The Real McCoy or Political Ploy?
The arrest of the senior leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Aleem Khan, by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) last month, was interpreted by many as a chicken coming home to roost for the ruling party. Opposition parties had long claimed that they were being politically targeted in the garb of accountability, but with Khan’s arrest it was believed, there was a levelling of sorts, and the PTI was finally getting a taste of its own medicine.
That was until the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader and Sindh Assembly speaker, Agha Siraj Durrani was arrested on February 25, the same day that Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supremo, Nawaz Sharif, was denied bail on medical grounds by the Islamabad High Court (IHC). Sharif is currently serving a seven-year sentence after being found guilty in the Al-Azizia reference case.
With the PML-N’s Shehbaz Sharif, Saad Rafique, Ishaq Dar and the PPP’s Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Murad Ali Shah all facing the accountability gun, and the clamour of ‘political victimisation’ emanating from the opposition, Aleem Khan’s arrest was seen as a move by the government to ‘even things out.’
“Maybe they want to show they are keeping a balance [by arresting people from all parties] so that no fingers are pointed at them. Just look at how long the inquiry had been going on against Aleem Khan,” said PPP leader Nabil Gabol, adding, “It’s a case of a smaller catch before they make the bigger catch. Sheikh Rasheed is saying things like ‘I want to talk to Imran Khan and ask him if there’s a package deal.’ So we don’t know if the courts are calling these arrests or the Prime Minister.”
Aleem Khan, a senior figure within the PTI, who was made Punjab’s Senior Minister for Local Government and Community Development, had long exercised significant clout over matters in the Punjab.
He had served as the president of the PTI’s Punjab chapter, and was influential in the ruling party’s dealings with its coalition partner in the Punjab – the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), his own former party.
However, sources within the party reveal that the PML-Q leadership had expressed discontent with regard to the power Aleem Khan wielded over matters in the Punjab. They further reveal that Prime Minister Imran Khan also nursed certain suspicions about Khan.
“Imran Khan doesn’t trust him, but Aleem Khan has had a lot of influence in the Punjab. He has been responsible for issuing many tickets in the province to several successful candidates. So he will remain an influential figure in the party,” said a PTI leader.
There is a feeling in PTI circles that Khan might eventually find a position within the party similar to that of former PTI general secretary, Jehangir Tareen. The latter was disqualified for life by the Supreme Court following his failure to reveal all his assets in the election nomination papers – the same verdict that has been handed out to Nawaz Sharif.
If Aleem Khan and Jehangir Tareen continue to exercise influence over the ruling party, the PTI’s claims of ridding the country of the allegedly corrupt and the merits of its accountability drive will come under further scrutiny.
However, it is likely that the PTI will continue to use Aleem Khan’s arrest to underline the merits of its anti-corruption drive. Former PTI Punjab president, Ejaz Chaudhary, contends that Aleem Khan’s arrest reaffirms the stance PTI has maintained over the years. “After Aleem Khan’s arrest, PTI’s principled stance has been vindicated. Khan himself took the moral high ground by resigning immediately. And PTI has taken the same moral ground with regard to Jehangir Tareen, Babar Awan and Azam Swati, who all resigned when charged with assorted offences, so that they are not in a position to influence investigations,” he said.
“I would like to ask Shehbaz Sharif who ruled Punjab for 10 years – and is now the PAC [Public Accounts Committee] chairman thanks to the opposition’s manipulation – instead of being sceptical about Aleem Khan’s arrest, why didn’t he take any action against him and the other PTI leaders who he is pointing fingers at, while fighting NAB charges himself?” Chaudhary added.
PML-N’s Senator Javed Abbasi retorts that a majority of the PML-N leaders, who under investigation, are still only fighting charges – they haven’t yet been proven guilty. “If the PTI wants to take the moral high ground, there are allegations against Imran Khan as well, so why doesn’t he step down?” he asks, adding that “there are allegations against many of their cabinet ministers as well.”
He continues, “The PTI leaders are just worried about what will happen to them next, which is why they are taking the so-called moral high ground.”
Meanwhile, amid possible cracks in the PTI-PML-Q alliance, the PML-N is ready to reclaim power in the Punjab if the current ruling coalition fails to sustain itself over the next few months.