ISLAMABAD: “Whenever the name of National Accountability Bureau (NAB) pops up, visible anger and displeasure can be seen on the prime minister’s face. The reason of this unhappiness is that Imran Khan wants if his opponents are nabbed by NAB, then they should not be released. But what is happening is totally opposite to what he wants,” said Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan in a background meeting with senior journalists after the arrest of Geo/Jang group’s Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman (MSR).
Details of the meeting, corroborated with many attendees, special assistants to the PM Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan and Sayed Zulfiqar Abbas Bukhari had with anchorpersons and editors of various media organisations in the backdrop of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman’s arrest reveal that even the story of arrest of Geo/Jang group’s head by NAB was a breaking news for the prime minister too.
The meeting between two special assistants to PM and senior journalists, which lasted for almost one and a half hours, was arranged to discuss the arrest of MSR and to brief the senior mediapersons about the achievements of Sayed Zulfiqar Abbas Bukhari as SAPM on Overseas Pakistanis. Both the cabinet members informed the senior media persons how NAB was damaging Imran Khan’s agenda of accountability. They believe NAB is running the factory of turning ‘villains’ into ‘heroes’.
“Imran Khan believes that whenever NAB arrests someone big like MSR, he becomes a hero just because of the flawed cases of anti-graft body. Ultimately, those who are arrested are maligned for the time being but later they get clean chits and become more popular than ever just because of NAB,” commented Special Assistant to PM on Information and Broadcasting.
“Prime Minister Imran Khan’s views about NAB are very clear i.e. the bureau should first thoroughly analyze the case and then arrest the accused, so that the chances of their release should be minimal. He wants if his opponents are arrested, then they should not be released,” said Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan.
During the meeting, many senior journalists justified the arrest and expressed their opinion that no one was above the law. Some senior journalists said if MSR has done something wrong, then he should face it. However, senior journalist Chaudhry Ghulam Hussain criticized the government for its act of arresting the editor-in-chief of Geo/Jang group and demanded that he should be released immediately on medical grounds because MSR has serious health issues.
“Our differences with NAB are that for example if we have given five solid cases against Ahsan Iqbal, the NAB arrests him in the sixth case which is based on weak grounds and ultimately he is released. We all know, in fact everybody knows, that cases against Ahsan Iqbal and many others are very weak and ultimately they will be released,” commented Sayed Zulfiqar Abbas Bukhari while briefing the senior media persons. During the conversation, he also admitted that NAB is adopting the pick and choose policy.
When the formal meeting between the two SAPMs and senior journalists began, Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan started briefing the media persons. “We were in a meeting when the story of MSR’s arrest came on the media. It was a news for me as well. We were not expecting that NAB will arrest him. Just a day before the arrest of MSR, PM Imran Khan sent me something on WhatsApp which was about the APNS protest. I sent it to the Principal Information Officer (PIO). I asked the PIO whether it (protest poster) was published by any newspaper? The PIO informed me that it wasn’t published in any newspaper but was circulated on social media”.
“You can’t imagine how much NAB is damaging this government. I can’t understand this Zulfi bhai. Whoever has been arrested by NAB has become a hero. The NAB has become a drycleaner. Go to the NAB, get a clean chit from it and become a hero. You are generating public sympathies and making him hero. NAB is running a factory to make new heroes,” said Miss Awan while addressing Bukhari during the briefing. She also commented that the APNS grievances were genuine because if the ministries have run their campaigns, then they should timely pay the newspapers’ dues.
During the briefing when Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan said even they were unaware that MSR would be arrested, one journalist asked that how is it possible that the government was unaware about the NAB’s move. Even some TV channels had reported that MSR would be arrested. However, the SAPM did not answer to this question.
Another participant of the meeting from the journalist community added that NAB’s credibility was at stake. According to this journalist, there is not a single conviction of any big name in NAB’s cases.
Journalist Khawar Ghuman said soon after the arrest of MSR, some media outlets started campaigning that Prime Minister Imran Khan was behind his arrest. It is high time that the government should come forward and clarify it, added the journalist who was in attendance at the meeting. Chaudhry Ghulam Hussain asked the SAPM on Information and Broadcasting that the government should demand it publicly that NAB should release MSR on medical grounds. “I know MSR. He has been facing serious health issues,” he said.
He also asked Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan on what grounds the government stopped the advertisements of Geo/Jang and Dawn groups. It is affecting the workers. Who gave this advice to PM? Miss Awan while responding to this question said directly there was no such decision. No one is targeted, she said.
Another journalist jumped into the conversation and commented, “If you have realized that NAB is bulldozing PM’s agenda of accountability and it is proving to be counterproductive, then why don’t you take any out-of-the box solution?”
Miss Awan, while expressing the reason for the government’s inability to take any out-of-the-box solution, said, “We are in double jeopardy. If we do any legislation to abolish NAB, then it will be you (media) who will criticise the government that we are fooling people. It will be you who will say that the government is abolishing the NAB to save the politicians. Secondly, we don’t have majority in the Senate to do any legislation.”
Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan then said, “Whenever any issue related to NAB is discussed, the PM has always shown displeasure. Whether this issue is discussed in the cabinet meeting or in any other meetings, he expressed unhappiness. He never appreciated and always said that NAB is not doing anything good to this country and this government. Isn’t it the same NAB that former Chief Justice Saqib Nisar and Justice Asif Saeed Khosa termed a deadwood. They too remarked that NAB is not performing.”
When a participant of the meeting said that Shahbaz Sharif ruled for the last 10 years in Punjab, why can’t the PTI government find new cases against him or Nawaz Sharif? Why the old cases are registered against Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif? People are asking whether there was no corruption scandal during the last 10 years against them.
Syed Zulfiqar Bukhari answered to this question and said, “It is very simple that the main scandals of the previous rulers are the old ones. If we find out the new cases, then we will be again criticised by the media that we are victimizing our opponents. The old cases should reach their logical ends first.”
During this one-and-half-hour long meeting, the participants discussed the government’s policy towards the media where the two cabinet members clarified the government’s position vis-à-vis stopping the advertisements.
Dr Firdous admitted that NAB’s action of arresting MSR had deepened the crisis. She said things are not in their control as far as NAB is concerned. “Confrontation with media is not in the favour of the government. We might have concerns or reservations with any media houses that they are damaging our narrative. It is government’s duty to address the concerns of the media because we know if there is any confrontation with media, then it would be the government which will be at the receiving end.”
Later, when the discussion about MSR’s arrest concluded, Bukhari briefed the media persons about his achievements as SAPM. He revealed how many Pakistanis had been sent abroad and what were his future plans with regard to sending skilled labour to different countries. He also briefed the participants about the steps being taken for the EOBI.
The meeting decided that every Friday, the SAPM would meet senior media persons in order to maintain cordial relations between the media and government.