It was a day of high drama in the streets of Islamabad – but inside the chambers of the Supreme Court, announcements were no less earth-shattering.
A series of unfortunate events for the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)-led government finally culminated on Tuesday with the apex court issuing a written order for the arrest of Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, along with 15 other accused, over corruption allegations in the rental power projects case.
A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, directed the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to arrest the accused “without any hesitation” within 24 hours.
NAB Chairman Fasih Bokhari, who denied rumours later in the day that he was quitting his post, also came under the court’s scrutiny. “It is made clear here to the NAB chairman that if any one accused involved in these cases succeed in making good their escape out of the country, he will be responsible personally for the same,” the court order read.
The chief justice, meanwhile, was in no mood for leniency. Saying the anti-graft body wanted to shift the burden onto the court, he told NAB officials that it was their job “to proceed against the accused in accordance with the procedure.”
It was clear that there were no longer two ways about it for NAB. Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed warned the bureau officials against sharing “documents” as if they were “shuffling cards” after they tried to convince the court over delays in submitting references in the case. “What kind of hindrances are there for NAB to file a reference against the accused in the courts?” he asked.
The NAB chairman is in trouble with the Supreme Court for more than just ‘inaction’ in arresting the besieged premier and company. He has been summoned at the next hearing, scheduled for 17 January, to explain why he removed two investigation officers (IOs) from the high-profile RPPs case, citing the Supreme Court’s dissatisfaction with their performance.
The counsel for the two investigation officers, Raja Amir Abbas, pointed out that on January 7, 2013, NAB principal secretary, Brig (retd) Farooq Naser Awan, has issued a letter, with handwritten notes from Bokhari, which asked for the “IOs under contempt to be removed from these cases since the Supreme Court of Pakistan also does not appear happy with their performance.” He added that this was why the officers were led to believe the SC wanted their removal.
Abbas claimed that his clients, Asghar Ali and Kamran Faisal, were actually sidelined, because they had prepared references as directed by the apex court, and had included Prime Minister Ashraf’s name.
NAB (Rawalpindi) Director General Col (retd) Subeh Sadiq had the same complaint, saying he was removed on the pretext of the Supreme Court’s dissatisfaction. He has now been restored along with Ali and Faisal.
The court’s order made further serious accusations against Bokhari. The text stated: “It is concluded that none except the NAB chairman himself used the name of the Supreme Court to achieve his own motives and objects, as it is evident from the record referred to hereinabove.” It pointed out that Bokhari was already under contempt notice for non-compliance in the RPPs case judgment, and that he should therefore “have been careful”.
Separately, the decision to arrest the prime minister was greeted with celebrations at Dr Tahirul Qadri’s sit-in, where participants chanted, “Long live the Supreme Court”.
NAB chairman speaks out
Speaking to media at Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport, Bokhari assured that the court’s decision would be implemented. The NAB chairman added that the 16 names of the accused had been placed on the Exit Control List. He avoided commenting further on the issue, saying that questions could be directed to the interior ministry.
To another question, the NAB chairman said he would try his best to comply with the apex court’s orders, acknowledging the difficulty of doing so. Bokhari was heading from the airport to Bilawal House to meet President Asif Ali Zardari.
(WITH ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY HAFEEZ TUNIO IN KARACHI)
Published in The Express Tribune, January 16th, 2013.