September Issue 2019
The ‘Victim’ Card?
On June 12, Prime Minister Imran Khan decided to form a high-powered inquiry commission to investigate the around Rs 24,000 billion worth of loans acquired by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in their tenures from 2008 to 2018.
A week later, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Deputy Chairman, Hussain Asghar, was appointed as head of the commission, which also includes officials from the Inter-Services Intelligence, Intelligence Bureau, Military Intelligence, Federal Investigation Agency, Federal Board of Revenue, State Bank of Pakistan and the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan.
The 11-member inquiry commission has been tasked to look into the dealings of the previous governments and finalise a report in six months, in order to determine whether the loans taken by the two past regimes resulted in sufficient development work. The commission, formed under the Pakistan Commission of Inquiry Act, 2017, would probe any misappropriation on the part of the PPP and PML-N governments.
In the immediate aftermath of the finalisation of the commission, two high-profile cases were put forth by the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI)-led government last month.
In the first case, PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal was accused of misappropriating around Rs 50 billion as the Minister for Planning, Development and Reforms, by the Federal Minister for Communications and Postal Services, Murad Saeed. In the second, the National Highway Authority (NHA) accused the PPP regime of corruption worth billions in the Larkana and Multan highways, alleging that the contractors involved in the projects had been named in the fake bank accounts cases.
Critics of the PTI government claim that the formation of the inquiry commission had merely formalised the targeting of the PML-N and the PPP, at the behest of the military establishment.
This targeting, the critics feel, began long before the PTI had even come to power, in what they feel was a political engineering process to bolster Imran Khan and his party in the lead-up to last year’s elections.
After being named in the Panama Leaks in April 2016, Nawaz Sharif saw himself being disqualified by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in July 2017. Sharif was eventually disqualified for life from holding a public office, with the Supreme Court further ruling that he couldn’t head his own party, the PML-N, either, which has since relegated him to the titular position of the party’s ‘supreme leader.’
Following Panama Leaks, the Supreme Court ordered further investigation into the Avenfield properties, the Flagship reference and the Al-Azizi Steel Mills case. The former premier is currently serving a seven-year sentence in the Al-Azizia Steel Mills case in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail since December last year.
Nawaz’s brother, Shehbaz Sharif, now the PML-N president, was arrested by NAB in the Rs 14 billion-worth Ashiana Housing Scam in October last year. Shehbaz was accused of directing the Punjab Land Development Company to hand over the housing scheme to Lahore Development Authority, and misappropriating funds from the project. The former Punjab chief minister was released on bail in February, but the case is still under trial.
Shehbaz’s son, Hamza Shehbaz, the opposition leader in the Punjab Assembly was also arrested by NAB in June, in relation to the Ramzan Sugar Mills and Saaf Paani cases, and for being in possession of assets beyond means.
Similarly, Nawaz’s daughter Maryam Nawaz, the current face of the PML-N, was arrested on August 8 in the Chaudhry Sugar Mills (CSM) case, along with her cousin, following NAB’s orders. On August 21, an accountability court extended the physical remand of Hamza Shehbaz and Maryam Nawaz till September 4. Maryam had earlier been sentenced to seven years in the Avenfield reference ahead of the elections last year, before the verdict was overturned in September.
The PML-N leadership maintains that the government’s ‘accountability drive’ has been designed to marginalise the party, as the cases against the party have not been limited to the Sharif family.
Former Federal Minister for Railways, Khawaja Saad Rafique, and his brother Khawaja Salman Rafique, were arrested by NAB in December last year in the Paragon Housing Scam. NAB accused the Rafique brothers of hiding their stakes in the Paragon Housing Society and using their political influence to misappropriate the funds in the project.
In July, two high profile PML-N leaders were arrested over contrasting charges. On July 1, former Punjab law minister, Rana Sanaullah was arrested by the Anti-Narcotics Force on the Faisalabad-Lahore motorway for possessing a “hefty amount of drugs.” On July 18, former prime minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was arrested by NAB in the LNG project scam. When he was petroleum Minister, Abbasi was accused of handing over a Rs 220 billion-worth LNG tender to a company in which he was also a shareholder.
“The so-called accountability mechanism that has been implemented in this country for the past 72 years is a fraud against accountability itself. It’s only there to bring EBDOs and PRODAs. They’re only there to target the political leadership and dismiss incumbent governments. Was financial corruption proven against Nawab Iftikhar Mamdot, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy or A K Fazlul Haq?” asked PML-N leader Malik Ahmed Khan, who served as the Punjab government’s spokesperson during the party’s last tenure in the province.
“You can’t punish someone for not being able to answer the questions for a non-declaratory regime. There was no requirement of declaration in NAB laws before 1999. The assets that are being questioned – were they earned after coming to power? Was Ittefaq Foundry created after Nawaz Sharif became the Prime Minister?” Malik Ahmed Khan added.
Where the PML-N leadership has seen wide-ranging arrests, the PPP leaders have also been targeted in a myriad of cases. The most prominent among these resulted in the arrest of party co-chairman and former president, Asif Ali Zardari, in the fake accounts and money laundering cases.
The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) started an investigation into the fake accounts case in 2015, eventually indicting Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur. The investigation showed that Zardari, Talpur and their accomplices were allegedly involved in money laundering worth Rs 35 billion through accounts in Summit Bank, United Bank Limited and Sindh Bank.
Zardari was moved to Adiala Jail on August 16; Talpur had already been sent to the same prison on August 12. Their judicial remand will last till September 5.
PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari had been initially named by NAB in the Park Lane case, along with his father Zardari. The former president had been accused of buying 2,460 kanals of land worth Rs 2 billion in Islamabad for a mere Rs 620 million.
Bilawal’s name, however, was removed by NAB in July as his involvement in the scam could not be traced. Bilawal has also been named in the fake accounts case, but has still not been arrested or charged.
Another senior PPP leader, Sharjeel Memon, was arrested by NAB in October 2017, allegedly for corruption of over Rs 5.67 billion in the Sindh Information and Archive Ministry. He was indicted in the case in 2018, but was granted bail in a case charging him for owning assets beyond means the following day.
The PPP leadership feels that the PTI government is targeting their leaders because it is looking to disrupt the PPP-led government in Sindh.
“The Sindh governor [Imran Ismail] is spearheading the plan to try and forge the collapse of the government with the help of turncoats. The twisted inquiry commission and the arrests of Asif Zardari and Faryal Talpur showcase the efforts that this fascist regime is making to destabilise Sindh,” remarked senior PPP leader, Qamar Zaman Kaira.
Kaira further reiterated that PM Imran Khan’s speech to the Pakistani-American community in Washington also proved that political vengeance is at the heart of all of the government’s actions.
“He is still on his container, targeting the opposition even in the US, while his government has unleashed a crackdown on political and constitutional freedoms in the country to suppress democracy. He is claiming that it is the government that has ensured that the opposition leaders aren’t spared. Perhaps the higher judiciary should look into this claim,” he added.
The inquiry commission formed against the opposition parties was rejected by the All-Parties Conference chaired by Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) Chief, Fazl-ur-Rehman, that decided to mark July 25, the first anniversary of last year’s elections, as a ‘black day.’
While the opposition has united against what it deems as political victimisation, spearheaded by the PTI in collaboration with the military establishment and the judiciary, the government claims that the very fact that the parties have formed a single front vindicates the PTI’s position that the PML-N and the PPP are looking to dodge the punishment for mishandling the national exchequer. Government officials claim that if the PML-N and the PPP are not guilty of any wrongdoing they should welcome the inquiry which may give them a clean chit against corruption.
In a press conference on July 17, Murad Saeed maintained that the PM’s trip to the US this month would cost the national exchequer merely $60,000, compared to the $460,000 bill for the trip undertaken by Nawaz Sharif when he was PM.
Along with the Prime Minister’s Special Assistant on Information and Broadcasting, Firdous Ashiq Awan, Saeed provided figures on the amount spent on foreign trips and security by the PML-N and the PPP during their tenures.
“The opposition parties should join hands with government in ensuring national development, instead of the negative tactics that they are currently engaging in. Looting the money that belongs to the masses is nothing but treason,” said PTI’s Minister for Labour and Human Resource Punjab, Ansar Majeed Khan.
“It’s a shame that the greed for money pushed Shehbaz Sharif to even loot the donation money for those affected by the earthquake,” Ansar Majeed Khan added, referring to a story published by UK’s Daily Mail in July, accusing Shehbaz of embezzling up to £500 million worth of British aid money.
Shehbaz served a notice to the Daily Mail, while Shahzad Akbar, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Accountability, swore that he had sufficient evidence to prove Sharif’s corruption in a court of law, if Sharif were to file a lawsuit against the publication.