Lashing out

Published: March 10, 2016
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The writer is a retired brigadier and a former president of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute

The writer is a retired brigadier and a former president of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute

Recently, PM Nawaz Sharif lashed out at NAB. Many question his intellect but almost all agree that Nawaz Sharif is not easily riled. His brother Shahbaz is the more excitable one. But there was little doubt that day that he was angry.

The general view about NAB is that it is not the most effective of anti-corruption organisations in the world. In fact, most citizens look at it through a jaundiced eye. They are wary of getting on its wrong side but have few expectations of it.

In recent times, the performance of NAB has indeed improved. What did it do, that so upset our cool PM?

All kinds of rumours were soon running rife after the PM’s comments. Many of them speculative on which individuals or projects could NAB be targeting to provoke the PM. Citing NAB, a private television channel held that the arrest of Aamir Latif, the contractor, triggered this reaction.

Aamir is a contractor employed by Kalson Private Limited, the construction company that has undertaken the joint venture of the Orange Line Metro Train Project. This in itself seems rather far-fetched. Contractors are a dime a dozen employees of such firms and could hardly be of significance to the PM.

However, the report goes further. “NAB might be investigating the Raiwind Road project” and that NAB “sought details of all projects involving PKR 500 million”. Due to my brief stay as an Adviser to the NAB Chairman, I am aware that seeking details of projects undertaken for over a specified sum is routine and of no special significance. I hardly think that should cause even a passing frown.

But, the report keeps going further. It seems that virtually every project that the ruling PML-N holds dear, including the LNG and the Orange Metro Line Project, has been placed under scrutiny and, that numerous sitting ministers are under investigation.

That would explain the PM’s ire.

Judging by its past performance, it is highly unlikely that NAB would go so far as to offer deliberate provocation to the sitting government — and this comes as close to deliberate provocation as possible — unless it was, either pushed, or assured of support of someone or an organisation fully reliable?

A distinct possibility but there might be another logical reason, since the incumbent NAB Chairman is a PPP appointee. The appointment was with the consent of the Leader of the Opposition but in a kind of “Shotgun-wedding”, when the CJ had threatened that, if this round did not find consensus, he, the CJ, would appoint the chairman. And no one wanted to take him on.

Over time I convinced myself that “the PM might have joined Raheel’s crusade against corruption reluctantly but has since realised that his political future might also lie in the success of this crusade”. Since Raheel’s announcement, events made me realise how grievously I might have erred: not for the first time.

In Karachi, the central and provincial governments have been at loggerheads over policing powers given to the Rangers. Suddenly, on the first occasion, which presented itself after Raheel’s announcement, the PM reversed his position exactly in line with that of the PPP.

He said, “The PM is against the arrest of politicians on mere corruption charges because NAB and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) are fully empowered to deal with such crimes”, exactly the contention of the PPP.

The fact that he chose to change directions in the first-ever meeting on security issues, where the military top-brass was not represented, in fact, even the recently appointed NSA was not invited, is not insignificant.

And then, the PM expresses his desire to clip the wings of NAB as well? And, this is after the PPP-heavy Senate approved a bill to this effect. Is NS assuring the PPP that the PML-N will ensure this bill passes the lower house as well? Well, well, what goes on?

The logjam in Karachi was caused by the arrest of Asim Hussain, the PPP stalwart who knows all. Informed sources say he sang like a bird. If these sources are right, and if he does know it all, no one in the PPP is safe. Therefore, Asim must be rescued or all are sunk. The arrest of Uzair Baloch merely added another person on the “Must-be-rescued” list of the PPP.

If the local bodies’ election proved one thing, it was that while the PPP might still hold sway in interior Sindh, Karachi is still the kingdom of the MQM. And the MQM has been squealing for many months, while the PPP stood by unconcerned.

Consequently, when the PPP needs help, it is quite understandable that the long-beleaguered Altaf Hussain refuses help to them and, in spite, instead offers “unconditional support” to the army in its fight against corruption.

So now the PPP is desperate and the PML-N PM has done his somersault. If the PPP wanted to push the PM into a more cornered corner, could pursuing deliberately, provocative cases against the PML-N, do the trick?

It’s a distinct possibility.

If the latter is true, I am of the view that some might be willing, unknowing accessories. But it is a possibility.

Unless the PM had too much chilli at breakfast that day.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 11th, 2016.

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