All Hail the Chief!

All Hail the Chief!
NAB, FIA and the Courts are making headlines every day. What’s the message?

On the eve of the election of the PM in the National Assembly, Asif Zardari’s business partner Anwar Majeed et al were arrested by the FIA in a case of money laundering via dozens of fake bank accounts after the Supreme Court denied them pre-arrest bail. This spells trouble for the PPP. Earlier, Mr Zardari and his sister Feryal Talpur’s lawyer had to submit to some harsh questioning in the same case by the SC, suggesting that both are living on borrowed time.

The PMLN is also on the spot. Fawad Hasan Fawad, the civil servant who has served both brothers Shahbaz Sharif and Nawas Sharif by turns, is already in NAB custody. So, too, is another civil servant, Ahad Cheema, who was close to ex-CM Shahbaz Sharif and lorded it over the Lahore Development Authority which is the hot spot under scrutiny for corrupt land grabs. Now comes the news that Ali Siddiqui, the PMLN-appointed Pakistan Ambassador to Washington, has been summoned again to appear before NAB in a case for investigation initiated by the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan. Not to be forgotten is PMLN stalwart and ex-Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique whose hand is perceived in dubious land deals under investigation. A far more sinister move centers on the outcome of the Model Town police massacre in June 2014 in which another civil servant, Dr Tauqeer Shah, who was close to ex-CM Shahbaz Sharif, is being grilled with the aim of implicating the Sharifs.

Meanwhile, the shoddy treatment being meted out to ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should not be missed. The courts from top to bottom have treated him harshly by denying him a fair hearing in due process. To add insult to injury, the spectacle of dragging a popular ex-Prime Minister to court in an SUV used for transporting high value terrorists is meant to reinforce the same message.

The message to both PPP and PMLN is: Behave or else.

Dutifully, the PPP has refused to cooperate with the PMLN in Punjab and Islamabad. In Punjab, the two could have jointly wooed the Independents and cobbled a coalition government led by the PMLN but the PTI was handed the coveted prize when the PPP announced its decision not to join hands with the PMLN. Indeed, the PPP went so far as to even deny support to the PMLN nominee for the Speaker of the Punjab Assembly. Much the same sort of non-cooperative stance has prevailed in Islamabad. The PPP has refused to stand with Shahbaz Sharif on fielding him as their joint candidate for prime ministership  despite the fact that the PMLN supported the PPP in fielding its Syed Khurshid Shah as their joint candidate for Speakership. Indeed, the PPP was conspicuous by its silence when the PMLN protested in parliament after the election of the PTI Speaker. It is significant that the PPP has changed its stance of joining hands with the PMLN to make a strong opposition in Punjab and Islamabad following the overnight trials and tribulations of Mr Zardari, Feryal Talpur and Anwar Majeed.

No less significant is the stance adopted by Shahbaz Sharif which is at odds with that of Nawaz Sharif. Nawaz wanted his party to make a determined bid to form a government in Punjab and a strong, united and vociferous opposition in Islamabad. Yet Shahbaz made no serious attempt to woo the Independents or the PPP in Punjab and opted for Islamabad rather than Punjab as his home for the next five years. Nor did he whip up crowds to protest the shoddy treatment meted out to Nawaz Sharif during his comings and goings to NAB courts in police custody. Clearly, he too has got the message to behave or else.

The media is also in the same boat. As the fate of GEO demonstrates, those channels which don’t behave and toe the line will be sorted out. The few independent journalists left have been gagged by their employers or threatened and browbeaten into submission. After successful censorship on Facebook and YouTube, the last frontier on the internet of freedom for citizens and political parties — Twitter — is about to fall too. Pak Telecom Authority has informed a Senate Standing Committee that Twitter has refused to oblige the government’s request to block “objectionable commentary targeting the state and its institutions”. Not unsurprisingly, the PTA told the Committee that “the Islamabad High Court is determined to teach Twitter a lesson”.

The PTI is also being “managed” behind the scenes. This much is obvious from the nominations approved by Imran Khan for key posts in government and parliament despite popular disgruntlement in the party. Indeed, Imran sheepishly shook hands with Mr Zardari and Bilawal but not with Shahbaz Sharif.

So we now have a loyal government, a loyal opposition, a loyal media and a loyal court. All Hail the Chief!

Najam Aziz Sethi is a Pakistani journalist, businessman who is also the founder of The Friday Times and Vanguard Books. Previously, as an administrator, he served as Chairman of Pakistan Cricket Board, caretaker Federal Minister of Pakistan and Chief Minister of Punjab, Pakistan.