Whom the gods wish to destroy ….

Whom the gods wish to destroy ….
The arrest of Mir Shakil ur Rahman, owner-editor of the Jang/Geo Media Group, by NAB is a shocking development because it confirms our worst suspicions that NAB has become a willing tool in the hands of the government to victimize and punish all those who dare to criticize the PM and government policies. A second comment that we are compelled to make is that the Chairman NAB, Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal, is being blackmailed by the government to do its bidding. The evidence for these conclusions is overwhelming.

MSR has been charged with an alleged “crime” he committed in 1986, in cahoots with the then chief minister of Punjab, Mian Nawaz Sharif. It is extraordinary that NAB has been motivated to dig so far in history to try and nail him. The charge is that CM Sharif illegally allotted 56 kanals of land to MSR at below market price. But MSR has provided evidence that he bought the land – as a business transaction – from an individual who was then its owner as shown in LDA records. In other words, there is no direct exchange-nexus between MSR and MNS.

Equally, the charge that MNS illegally allotted any plots of land to anyone, let alone MSR, is not maintainable because the law at that time allowed the CM wide “discretionary” powers to make such allotments.

MSR’s arrest at a preliminary stage of the inquiry or investigation is also highly “irregular” in NAB’s own book of rules. The recent amendments in NAB rules and laws relating to inquiries against “businessmen” preclude such swift action. What is most significant is the fate of the Accountability Court judge hearing MSR’s case who expressed surprise and reservations about NAB’s conduct and was expected in the next hearing to remand MSR to judicial custody: he has been abruptly shunted. There are echoes in this of a similar fate of various Accountability Court judges trying MNS and other PMLN leaders in assorted cases who weren’t quite ready to blindly tow NAB’s line.

Contrary to NAB assertions that it is an independent institution, various government spokesmen have time and again publicly claimed they have “proof” of corruption against PMLN leaders which they are sending to NAB. Indeed, before NAB swung into action against MSR, the prime minister himself went on record to say how he intended to fix him.

Unfortunately, too, the circumstantial evidence of the government blackmailing the NAB Chairman is irresistible. Shortly after he gave an interview to a journalist outlining his intention to proceed against certain PTI leaders like Pervez Khattak, Zulfiqar Bukhari etc., a video mysteriously appeared on the PM’s “help line” that severely incriminated the NAB Chairman. Soon thereafter, a media channel owner-advisor to the PM hosted the incriminating video that sent the NAB reeling. The video was withdrawn and the case hushed up by leaning on the media. But NAB has now abandoned all pretext of neutrality and is roundly going after the government’s opponents and critics. Wait for it: a petition against the NAB Chairman pending in the Supreme Judicial Council is now likely to see the light of day and bipartisan demands for his resignation are also going to grow louder.

MSR has applied for bail in the Lahore High Court. The mainstream political parties led by the PMLN have petitioned the Islamabad High Court to restrain NAB. The Jang-Geo Group has approached the Islamabad High Court to stop PEMRA from blocking GEO channel in various ways. At home, every media and civil society organ has condemned the government’s repressive and vindictive ways. Abroad, every human rights and media organization of repute has voiced serious concerns. The US State Department has made a telling statement while senior diplomats of other Western countries are expressing their views directly to their Pakistani counterparts in no uncertain manner.

Chief Justice Athar Minallah of the IHC has repeatedly censured NAB for its arbitrary and discriminatory ways. It’s a no-brainer that he will sooner than later order “Enough is Enough”. Therefore it is a foregone conclusion that MSR will be out on bail soon. But it is by no means certain that the vindictive government and NAB won’t drum up another false case to keep him in chains.

This is the most media-repressive regime since 1988 when a hybrid “democracy” was ushered into Pakistan. Benazir Bhutto learnt to live with the “din of democracy”; MNS learnt the error of his ways later; Gen Musharraf was long the darling of the media. But it is Imran Khan who admits that his political success was owed in large measure to a supportive media and it is Imran Khan who is now bent on silencing it.

In opposition, Imran Khan used to say that media crackdowns are a sign of unpopular and tottering regimes. In government, he should recall that when MNS and Gen Musharraf  cracked down on the media, it wasn’t long before their rule came to an end. “Whom the gods wish to destroy …”

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.