An anti-terrorism court on Monday granted bail to Aamir Khan – an MQM leader picked up by Rangers in the predawn raid at the party’s headquarters in Karachi on March 11, along with 26 wanted suspects. According to the court, it was “due to faulty investigation into the allegations against him”.
Before he was handed over to police on June 4, Aamir Khan remained in the custody of the Rangers for 85 days. The Rangers can detain an individual for up to 90 days under the Protection of Pakistan Act of 2014.
Last week, the federal government led by the PML-N extended a similar power to the FIA. A day later, there were reports that the agency raided the house of Ali Hasan Zardari, a close relative of Asif Ali Zardari, in Ghulam Haider Shah Colony in Nawabshah, and seized seven ambulances that were given to the district administration to assist flood victims. It was a joint operation by NAB Sindh and the FIA. The ambulances were being used as passenger vans, said the reports.
The ambulances were being used as passenger vans
Amid criticism that the law-enforcement operation in Karachi was targeting the MQM and the PPP, Rangers and NAB have expanded their operations. “Some senior officers of security and intelligence agencies have also been picked up for their role in the crime economy,” says Imtiaz Khan Faran, a veteran journalist who covers political and security issues.
On June 23, the Rangers issued ‘criminal profiles’ of eight workers of Sunni Tehreek – a largely Urdu speaking Barelvi group – detained during a midnight raid on at their central secretariat in Karachi on June 17.
According to Maj Sabtain – the spokesman of the Rangers – a total of 11 men were arrested during the raid, of which eight are wanted for murder, and the rest are accused of serious offenses, including extortion and street crimes.
But unlike the raid on MQM headquarters Nine Zero – where a central leader of the party was detained for sheltering criminals – Sunni Tehreek leaders Sarwat Ejaz Qadri and Shahid Ghori were allowed to go after “brief interrogation”.
NAB too is now probing cases involving leaders of PML-Q and PML-F, the latter a coalition partner in Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s federal government. According to reports, the bureau has questioned Kamran Tessori, a central leader of the PML-F, and former Sindh minister Arbab Ghulam Rahim, who is now part of the PML-N.
Imtiaz Khan Faran is skeptical. Many politicians and bureaucrats will get plea bargains, he says. Some are relatives of NAB officials.
But NAB’s recent action against former military officers, especially Brig Amjad, brother of former army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, dispels that notion.
“Over 2,000 corruption inquiries are pending in the Sindh region for the last fifteen years. Islamabad has directed the regional office to complete them in weeks,” said a NAB official, asking not to be named because he is not allowed to speak to reporters.
After Asif Zardari’s recent tirade against the army backfired, the PPP has now devised a counter-strategy, analysts say, which includes fighting NAB in the courts. They will be encouraged by the release of Aamir Khan.
On June 16, Sindh High Court granted bail to Syed Ali Mardan Shah, the provincial population welfare minister, who is facing a NAB inquiry for misuse of power and embezzlement of public funds. Former minister of education Pir Mazharul Haq, information secretary Zulfiqar Shahlwani, and Mansoor Rajput have also secured pre-arrest bails.
Shams Keerio – a local journalist who has been covering the Sindh government for two decades –
says the PPP has decided to ask Zamir Ghumro, Mardan Shah’s counsel, to help its leaders as an independent lawyer. Ghumro is known to be a critic of the PPP.
Rangers can detain an individual for up to 90 days
On June 18, NAB arrested Sehwan Sharif town municipal officer Sajawal Mumtaz Zardari, and three town officers – Zahoor Ahmed Shahani, Rehmatullah Mamon and Engineer Idrees on charges of corruption. The next day, a court handed them over to NAB for another 14 days, on a remand. The men were reported to be close to the PPP.
Also on June 18, Rangers detained Fishermen Cooperative Society vice president Sultan Qamar Siddiqui. He was produced in a court on June 19, where the Rangers said he would be detained for 90 days. According to unverified reports in the media, he told interrogators that he carried out extortion on behalf of the PPP.
Reports on June 19 also said the FIA had stopped Zardari’s brother-in-law and Sindh education secretary Dr Fazlullah Pechuho from leaving the country. The same evening, Syed Owais Muzaffar, a close aide of the former president, was stopped at Karachi airport and questioned for 36 minutes before being allowed to go to London via Dubai.
Asif Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur also left for Dubai earlier this month. Speculation had just begun in the media before Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who had accompanied his father to Dubai, returned to Karachi on June 26. Insiders say the former president will also return soon.
In an unexpected move, Sindh Local Governments Minister Sharjeel Memon suspended 37 town municipal officers on June 30, on charges of corruption. He had issued show-cause notices to 109 TMOs in September last year, asking them to provide audit details of their funds. Thirty-seven of them did not respond. Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah has ordered corruption cases against them.
The move signals that while the party is ready to battle it out with law-enforcement agencies in court, it realizes it needs to show resolve against corruption.
The writer is a freelance journalist