Hours after NAB formally opened a probe into the controversial Rawalpindi Ring Road (RRR) project, we saw two prominent cabinet members issue full-throated denials of involvement. Most significant was Zulfi Bukhari, the prime minister’s special assistant on overseas Pakistanis. Bukhari quit his job until his “name is cleared up of any allegations and media’s obnoxious lies”. He said he was doing so out of respect for PM Imran Khan’s past statements calling on people facing inquiries to step aside until their names are cleared. The resignation already puts Bukhari above several prominent PTI leaders who refused to do so in the recent past. If Bukhari is guilty, his action is moot, but if he is innocent, his stock is definitely going to rise.
The other denial came from Federal Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan who said he would “leave politics for life” if there is any proof that any RRR land belongs to him or his relatives. Curiously though, the minister later said that he might have a “personal connection with a house or an individual” involved in a housing society but no financial links. This voluntary admission itself merits investigation since it opens the possibility of the trading of favours that may not be in the best public interest.
The fact-finding committee has also raised eyebrows. One major point of consternation is the dueling reports issued by the three-member fact-finding committee. The Rawalpindi commissioner laid most of the blame on housing societies and a few bureaucrats, while the two junior committee members issued their own report which said that the controversial changes were all approved by individuals of higher rank than the accused bureaucrats. This implies that they feel the bureaucrats named by the commissioner were actually scapegoats for big fish.
It is worth noting that Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, whom the PM has stood by despite many scandals, was the final authority. Without delving into the PTI and the opposition’s name-calling, it was also interesting how PTI leaders said the inquiry shows the PM’s commitment to anti-corruption. If the cabinet members are found guilty, should the PM be forgiven for hand-picking corrupt politicians in the first place?
Published in The Express Tribune, May 19th, 2021.