Being the son of a religious scholar with impressive number of followers and disciples in Multan and cities adjacent to it, Hamid Saeed Kazmi hardly felt any serious opposition while contesting for a national assembly seat in 2008. The PPP ticket added to his attraction and he surfaced as an obvious choice when it came to appointing of a minister of religious affairs by Zaradari-Gilani government. Things appeared so smooth and hunky-dory for him, but then came the Hajj season of 2010.
Pakistani pilgrims felt as if abandoned, betrayed and cheated by their government while coping with faulty arrangements of their stay and travel in Saudi Arabia in that season. That triggered a flood of corruption stories as well and these stories started sounding credible when an erstwhile colleague of Kazmi, Azam Swati, held the minister of religious affairs directly responsible for hazards that Pakistani pilgrims had endured. Swati’s nonstop verbose in this regard compelled the Supreme Court Chief Justice to ask for a thorough probe by taking a suo motu action. Sacked from the federal cabinet, Kazmi remains in the jug since then.
As a member of the national assembly, he still is privileged to attend its sittings even as an accused under trial. After coming to parliament house from his cell, however, Kazmi had mostly been looking for journalists who would listen to his side of the story. With an elaborately flagged file, he would approach them for one-on-one meetings. His one-line message remains that so far the investigative agencies could not even furnish appropriately put charges of corruption against him. Yet, the lower courts are even reluctant to grant him bail for fear of the apex court.
As an average sinner, I mostly stay away from the pious type a la Kazmi. Yet, often I also felt compelled to listen to him with some sympathy. He pleads his case with a choked voice and misty eyes. You need to be compulsively cruel for disregarding his tale.
But the same Kazmi was a different person while speaking in the national assembly Friday. He forced the chair to let him speak on a point of order. After given the floor, the rhetoric-trained Mullah yawned out of his usually composed mien and in chaste Urdu he presented his point with very apt words and superbly measured tone.
“Sir,” he told the speaker, “when I appeared before the Chief Justice to defend myself against charges of corruption during the so-called Hajj scandal, he firmly suggested to me that I should resign from the cabinet to facilitate the fair and impartial inquiry and I had bowed my head to his command.”
Too subtly recalling the eruption of a scandal that involved the son of Chief Justice, Kazmi put but one simple question before finishing his speech: “what about the suggestion he had given to me in the name of helping the fair and impartial inquiry?” Most people sitting in the house and the press gallery were visibly stunned with Kazmi’s understated performance and the final stroke he had played.
Disregarding the personal bitterness of Kazmi, most journalists also felt motivated to find out whether the casual and spontaneous sounding remarks of the sacked and humiliated minister of religious affairs came from his heart only. Do the mainstream ruling party members feel the same way? We needed to probe the question deeply; for participating in a popular talk show Thursday evening, a blunt PPP legislator – Nadeem Afzal Chann – had expressed the similar feelings on camera.
While looking for a satisfactory answer to my question, I did succeed to exclusively chat with three ministers that I knew for sure relished tremendous access to both the President and Prime Minister. All of them firmly told me that Arsalan-connected scandal came as “bad news” for their government. The issue must stay between the real estate tycoon and the chief justice. At least one of them felt visibly relieved while imagining as if the comments that the real estate tycoon had made to a journalist for publication Friday morning, “would help scuttling the chances of an either/or showdown.” With thousand apologies, I kept questioning his all-will-be-well-in-the-end type optimism that also sounded too self-comforting to me.
As if to prove my skepticism right, a well-connected legislator from an allied party of the ruling coalition walked into this minister’s room. He confirmed that a number – 7 to be precise – had been making rounds in some conspiracy-churning drawing rooms of Islamabad since Tuesday night. I can decode and explain the significance of this number. But a journalist always operates under some limits and constraints. Can’t tell-all! Use your own brain to recall a dramatic “in-house coup” that was staged in this country during the second government of Nawaz Sharif in the late 1990s.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 9th, 2012.
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