Ahad Cheema Lifts Lid On True Purpose Of His Incarceration By NAB

Ahad Cheema Lifts Lid On True Purpose Of His Incarceration By NAB
While he may have returned to a high office dealing closely with the national bureaucracy, Advisor to the Prime Minister on Establishment Ahad Khan Cheema spent nearly 38 months in the custody of the National Accountability Bureau, claiming that a narrative was constructed to pin Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) as a paragon of corruption.

Speaking to SAMAA TV's anchor Syed Talat Hussain in an interview on the show Red Line from his spacious office in the Prime Minister Office Complex, Cheema recalled the entire episode, which began in 2017 and continued till 2021.

The Plan

"The 2013 elections were based on the issue of power load-shedding. The 2018 elections were on a different agenda, the particular issue was corruption, and there was a need to create a perception that the PML-N was corrupt," he explained.

Cheema said that his arrest was part of the effort to build a narrative of corruption against key members of the PML-N.

Given the work he had done in Punjab under then chief minister Shehbaz Sharif, he claimed the real target was obvious.

"Every ten days, or after a hearing, the newspapers would print the complete list of charges against me," he said, noting that this communication was a key element of the two-part plan.

The second part of the plan was to coerce those with whom Shehbaz had worked closely to turn against him and 'give him up'.

"In the beginning, they pursued a line of questioning that supported this notion," Cheema said, adding that they would ask for any and all incriminating information against Shehbaz Sharif, details of any kickbacks and such.

"But when they exhausted all lines of questioning, they became frank and said that they were under pressure," Cheema said of his prosecutors.

He was offered to issue a statement against Shehbaz Sharif in exchange for his freedom to return to his work and that he would become a "friend of NAB".

Defy, and he would be buried under a mountain of cases.

Cheema said he chose the latter and faced a mountain of cases.

He said in all, he faced around 13 inquiries, of which at least 11 have concluded in his favor. A few inquiries remain pending against him, as is a trial. Still, he claimed that not even an iota of evidence has been presented in any of the cases.

Hardest time

Among the hardest times that he had to endure in custody was the targeting of his family.

Cheema, whose wife is also a civil servant, was once detained.

"One day, when my wife came to visit me, she was detained for questioning for three to four hours," he said.

At another point, he said, his sister and brother-in-law were summoned and detained.

"They told me they would arrest them all unless I turn approver," he said. However, it was his sister who then convinced him not to relent.

"That was probably the hardest episode in all this thing."

Moreover, all the properties and bank accounts of his family members were frozen and remained so to this day, with around 9-10 members of his family the subject of the dragnet.

"There was a cousin of mine who was a highly paid professional in Qatar, and warrants for his arrest were in the field, and we found out when they were cancelled two to four years later."

He added that warrants for the arrest were also issued for his brother, who has been living in the US since 1991.

The other aspect was his children, who knew something was wrong, but it was a subject not discussed at home, not even when his children visited him in jail.

The Offer

While still in NAB custody, he said several officers at various levels came forward with the offer, asking to fabricate allegations against Shehbaz Sharif.

"From assistant directors to deputy directors and then when they thought they needed this offer to come from an even more credible person, even the then NAB chairman [Justice (retired) Javed Iqbal] visited," he said.

Fabricate the Truth

When Hussain asked whether Cheema had thought of giving into his captors' demands to secure his freedom, the former bureaucrat responded in the affirmative.

"Yes, many times."

But in the end, he decided not to.

"I did not because, firstly, it is principally and ethically wrong," he began. "Secondly, it was outright false."

"If there was something [done that was illegal] and I hid it, then there would have been the moral question of whether I should hide it or not," he deliberated.

"But if you tell me to fabricate a false allegation against Shehbaz Sharif, that I could not do."

I used to think, what information are they really asking from me?

An Afraid Bureaucracy

Cheema said that many do not yet realize the impact NAB overreach has had on the bureaucracy, with officers opting to quit their jobs rather than sign off on projects.

The former bureaucrat said that many people say the NAB law has been changed and that civil servants can now return to work as if nothing happened, but it does not work like this.

"There is no on or off switch. The damage is not easily reversible."

He recalled how in 2014 when he was deputed at the Lahore Development Authority (LDA), he was trying to do some innovative things. This was the time when the Aashiyana project came up.

Cheema said that some friends from outside LDA told him that while his officers may agree to the proposed changes while in the LDA offices, but the minute they go outside, they say that the changes will have them all killed.

"When I asked why they say that, what is their issue, I was told that in 1999-2000s, some of their colleagues were arrested and were made examples of, they still remember that," he said, adding that they continued to feel its effects 14 years later.

"So whatever happened from 2017-2021, it was multiplied by a 1000 or 2000, so I have not seen any civil servant who hasn't or an officer close to them have not been called up for hearings and questioning by NAB."

He said there is a high cost for what has happened, and it is not easy to rectify it.

As a recent example, he cited how his office received a summary meant for the Federal Cabinet a few days ago.

When he protested that the summary did not pertain to them, the secretary told him that the relevant officer had refused to sign it, saying he preferred to be fired.

"And this has become quite commonplace where officers say they are afraid, after which there is no discussion left on merit."

Watch the full interview below: