Former CM Punjab Usman Buzdar's Arrest Also On The Cards

Former CM Punjab Usman Buzdar's Arrest Also On The Cards
LAHORE: Usman Ahmed Khan Buzdar, former Chief Minister of Punjab, has been charged by the Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE) with abuse of authority related to the illegal occupation of Buzdar House in Fort Munro. A senior official privy to this development confirmed to The Friday Times (TFT) that an inquiry against Buzdar has been completed, in which he has failed to submit a satisfactory answer during call up notices. The senior official confirmed to TFT that the former chief minister's arrest is "imminent". 

This development comes as PTI chairman and former prime minister Imran Khan was taken into custody from Islamabad high court premises on Tuesday May 9, leading to pandemonium across the country and violent rioting which led to ransacking of military facilities and army commanders’ official residences. Other senior PTI leaders have also been arrested by various law enforcement agencies in the past 48 hours.  

Former Punjab law minister Raja Basharat is also reported to have been arrested sometime earlier today (May 11), as the government finally shows that it has the will and capability to pursue all legal complaints and cases against PTI leadership to their logical conclusion. Previous attempts to serve notices on Imran Khan, or to arrest him, had come to naught; many alleged that the lenient treatment and relief Khan received was emblematic of factions within state institutions that continued to support him. 

The case against Usman Buzdar

The building in question, allegedly occupied by the former CM and his brother Umar Buzdar, is located at Koh-e-Sulaiman tehsil headquarters in Fort Munro, a scenic hill station in Dera Ghazi Khan. 

However, it does not exist in the records of the Department of Revenue (Jamvandi). The complaint was filed by Basheer Ahmed Chauhan, a resident of Block 17, Dera Ghazi Khan, on March 25, with a video attached, where an employee of the Border Military Police from Mamor Khari can be heard discussing Buzdar's misuse of authority in this occupation. The ACE has called for the building's closure and for legal action against the Buzdar brothers.

Mehmood Mushtaq Laghari, former tehsildar and acting commissioner of Dera Ghazi Khan, stated that work was done on reviewing revenue records back when he was serving as tehsildar of Koh Sulaiman. “The settlement at Fort Munro took place in 1968-1967, and the Raqba event is 1678F-00M. The land is owned by the provincial government and district council Leah Muzaffargarh, and there was a change in its cultivation field in the year 1968-1967”.

In Usman Buzdar's defense, his counsel Bahram Khan stated that the first settlement of Mouza Fort Munro took place in 1968-69 in Mouza Salam Raqqa. The settlement records show that the chiefs of all the tribes - including Sardar Zulfikar Ali Khan Khosa, son of Sardar Dost Muhammad Khan Khosa; Afifa Begum, daughter of Muhammad Jamal Khan; and Sardar Ashiq Khan Buzdar's great-grandfather and grandfather - had owned land at Fort Munro since the British colonial era. The settlement records show that there were 34 residents in the village, and the land area was 26 kanals and 16 marlas.

In the more recent settlement of 2020-21, the same number of residents were registered as living in the village. Since Mehmood Mushtaq Laghari's name was registered in the report, the field staff of the revenue department supported the report.

Laghari clarified that the staff arrangement mail is a legal and directive arrangement related to the possession of ‘Center No. Board of Revenue’ orders. 

The registration is legal, but he has no personal involvement in establishing this registration. He has not obstructed any legal orders before, nor is he doing so now. However, he reserves the right to take legal recourse against any illegal move made against him.

Mehmood Mushtaq Laghari also mentioned that his house is one of four similar houses belonging to Tamandarsardaran Laghari, Khosa, and other nations. 

Usman Buzdar ‘dishonest’, ACE inquiry report concludes

In its conclusion, the ACE wrote that Usman Buzdar appeared to be 'dishonest' in this case, and his written reply was unsatisfactory. He managed to include the Buzdar House as a property in the revenue department's Jamabudi by ordering the creation of an additional column in 2021-22.

The government has vowed to crack down on corrupt officials and implement reforms to improve transparency and accountability, but progress has been uneven so far. While some high-profile cases have resulted in convictions, others have been mired in lengthy court battles, and progress on implementing anti-corruption measures has been slow.

The latest case against Buzdar will likely put pressure on Imran Khan's close aides as the government steps up its efforts to combat corruption, particularly as Pakistan faces a range of economic challenges, including a looming debt crisis. Buzdar has also been accused of soliciting hefty bribes for postings and transfers of bureaucrats in Punjab province when he was chief minister and Imran Khan was prime minister of Pakistan. 

Corruption is seen as a significant obstacle to economic growth in the country, as funds sources from meagre taxes and expensive foreign loans are routinely diverted from essential services and infrastructure projects into the pockets of corrupt officials, a process that only magnified during PTI’s regime. 

The writer is a senior correspondent at The Friday Times with a focus on politics, economy and militancy. He also hosts the Hassan Naqvi Show on Naya Daur.