Speaker in custody

The Sindh Assembly Speaker is the first high-profile PPP leader to be arrested in a while

Editorial February 21, 2019

Agha Siraj Durrani has been arrested by NAB. The Sindh Assembly speaker was taken into custody yesterday in Islamabad which indicates that the accountability body feared that taking action against the senior politician in his home province of Sindh could cause confrontation with the sizable security team that escorts him. After Sharjeel Inam Memon and Dr Asim Hussain, Durrani is the first high-profile PPP leader to be arrested in a while.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari describes the arrest of a sitting assembly speaker as an “undemocratic attempt to dislodge Sindh government” and Asif Ali Zardari calls it a “direct challenge to democracy in Pakistan”. Both see the ‘unprecedented’ arrest as continuation of the government’s victimisation drive against opposition leaders. Murtaza Wahab, the Sindh CM’s adviser, regrets “the first instance [in Pakistan’s history] of a sitting speaker taken into custody [by NAB]”. While the PPP senator does not “understand the logic” behind the arrest, a NAB notification tries to provide one, stating that the speaker has been taken into custody for his corrupt practices as provincial minister for local bodies.

A NAB press release of July 2018 provides proper details of allegations against the PPP stalwart. It states that the NAB’s regional board had sanctioned three separate inquiries against Durrani: the first inquiry pertains to an allegation against him of accumulation of assets beyond known sources of income; the second concerns 352 illegal appointments made by him; and the third pertains to embezzlement of funds for the construction of the MPA Hostel and construction of the new Sindh Assembly building, as well as irregularities in the appointment of project directors for these projects.

The PPP may have lots of reasons to question the ongoing accountability drive, but its leaders should avoid attempts to portray Durrani’s arrest as Sindh-specific.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 21st, 2019.

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