Mazhar Abbas
Wednesday, September 02, 2015
From Print Edition

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In a statement from London on Monday, the PPP co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari presented the “PPP Muqadama” — his first outburst against Mian Nawaz Sharif since the PML-N won 2013 elections and became prime minister for the third time. What led to this crisis and how strong is the PPP case?

The answer to Mr. Zardari’s outburst came on Tuesday when Army Chief General Raheel Sharif met Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif and it was decided that “no political interference” would be allowed in the Karachi targeted operation.

It was about a year back when relations soured between Interior Minister Ch. Nisar Ali Khan and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. His absence was felt in many high-level meetings on law and order and national security.

Highly placed sources disclose that the prime minister didn’t want a major conflict with the PPP, including the reopening of cases pending with the NAB, as he was under pressure due to the “dharna” of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).

Nisar was not in favor of putting any pressure on the NAB or other agencies under his ministry. He too was against political victimization but at the same time was not in favor of brushing some high-profile corruption cases under the carpet.

Once he even refused a request from a prominent PPP leader in the case of Shariq Jatoi and did not pressure the FIA.

There were some other reasons as well which kept Nisar away from some important meetings, but it was only after prime minister agreed with him that the NAB and FIA should be given a “free hand.”

There was another reason which led to the present crisis. A highly confidential report linked to “terror financing” suspected the role of some PPP leaders particularly after arrest of some officials of fisheries department.

The Rangers raid at the Sindh Building Control Authority (SBCA) also triggered a controversy and the provincial government issued a strong-worded statement about the Rangers jurisdiction.

However, the issue was brought under control and an “apex committee” meeting was called. DG Rangers Maj. Gen. Bilal gave a presentation and the Sindh government was asked to take action against some of the officials named in the briefing.

A week after this meeting, the Rangers issued a strong-worded “press release” in which for the first time the issue of “terror financing” and illegal recovery of over Rs230 billion created sensation. The PR pointed the finger at “Bilawal House” and the PPP.

The speech of Corps Commander Lt. Gen. Naveed Mukhtar in a seminar of National Defense University, Karachi almost set the tone of what the new turn “Karachi Operation” was about to take.

On the other hand, the captain of the operation Syed Qaim Ali Shah was not happy with pressure on him from his own party leaders and at times looked helpless even in transfer, positing and promotions.

It is an irony that there is not a single inquiry or charges of corruption against the captain but half of his team is facing inquires, which led to the arrest of some secretaries and directors of different departments.

Thus, in a way the 80-year-old chief minister has become a sandwich between the agencies and his party leaders.

When for the first time the Sindh government decided that the Rangers had no authority to raid government offices, the establishment decided to use the FIA and NAB assisted by the Rangers.

The third reason was the recent visit of prime minister to Karachi in which he instructed the FIA to address the chief minister’s concerns.

Following the PM’s visit, there was a general impression that he had instructed the federal agencies not to go “too far” against the PPP. However, the FIA officials never held any meeting with the CM.

A few days after his visit, Army Chief General Raheel Sharif presided an important meeting on “Karachi operation” and reassured that the operation would continue and for the first time the word “corruption” was also used.

Some of PPP leaders including Mr. Zardari, his all powerful sister Faryal Talpur, Dr Asim Hussain, Owais Muzaffar and some others, who were abroad, sought opinion from the captain about the ground situation.

Sources said the chief minister and home minister were sure that the agencies would not take any action against Ms Faryal or any top PPP leader, but the arrest of Dr Asim allowed Zardari and Faryal to direct their guns at the chief minister.

Mr. Zardari is now fully convinced that the ground situation is not at all safe for him and some other top party leaders. He strongly suspects the role of the interior minister in making the FIA more active against the PPP in corruption cases.

Sources in the PPP say Zardari had little option, as he could not stop the operation or criticize the role of the army after his last statement which cost him heavily.

Gen. Raheel is very clear that Karachi operation has to remain above board and action must be taken if some government officials or the PPP leaders are found involved in terror financing or huge corruption.

Zardari’s “muqadama” is that PPP leaders and Sindh bureaucrats are being harassed, as leaders like Makhdoom Amin Fahim and former premier Yusuf Raza Gilani are facing arrest warrants, while Qasim Zia and Dr Asim are in custody.

The PPP muqadama is that why the NAB and FIA have targeted only Sindh? Zardari termed all these steps revival of politics of 90s. “I think Mian Sahab has not learnt any lesson from the past,” he said.

No other party in Pakistan has given as much “political sacrifices” as the PPP and there are no two opinions about it, but that alone is no defense of today’s PPP whose image is badly “tainted” with charges of billions of rupees of corruption.

The PPP founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was “judicially killed.” His era remained controversial — a mixture of good and bad decisions, but even his worst opponents had never accused him of corruption. Contrary to his image, the present leadership of the PPP from its co-chairman to two vice-chairmen, including former Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, is not facing cases of political victimization but of corruption.

The dilemma of the committed leaders has been that they had some good memories of the days of Bhuttos. They always feel proud of defending the party, but are not ready to defend “Petarian group” (those who passed from Petro College, Jamshoro, during the days of Mr. Zardari).

The writer is senior columnist and analyst of GEO, The News and Jang.