Arrested on Feb 22 by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for corruption in the Ashiana Housing scandal under Section 2 of the Schedule of NAO, 1999, Ahad Cheema, formerly Lahore Development Authority (LDA) Chief and now heading Quaid-e-Azam Thermal Power Limited, had failed to appear before NAB twice despite summons. Showing flagrant disrespect for the rule of law this BPS-19 officer rudely questioned with rank insolence NAB’s laws, competence, etc. This blatant arrogance is a sorry manifestation of having Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif, newly elected Interim President PML (N), as a most powerful patron.
Cheema’s guilt is for NAB to prove, however in a most dangerous development his arrest drew a sharp reaction from a handful of the vested interest in the all-powerful Pakistan Administrative Service (PAS), previously the District Management Group (DMG), the most coveted administrative service groups of the Civil Service of Pakistan (CSP). Vociferously orchestrated by Punjab’s Additional Chief Secretary, Umar Rasool, a handful of PAS and Punjab Management Services (PMS) officers locked down their offices on Feb 23 to protest “Cheema’s unlawful arrest”. Instead of condemning, PML-N members of Punjab Assembly joined the protest and passed a resolution against NAB. The other two Additional Chief Secretaries, including Maj (Retd) Azam Suleman, in charge of the Provincial Home Department, were not part of this calumny. Chief Secretary (CS) Punjab Zahid Saeed ostensibly had no active role in the “pen down” strike, could the protesters have the audacity to run afoul of the Punjab ESTA Code 2013 indulging in sedition without the CS’ benign silence? The stakes have force-multiplied with Shahbaz Sharif and the PM’s all-powerful Principal Secretary Fawad Hassan Fawad being “mentioned in dispatches” by NAB in the Ashiana scandal.
Then PCS officers filed a Constitutional Petition in 2010 in the Supreme Court (SC) (still pending), wherein besides other issues blue-eyed boy Cheema’s illegal posting, then BPS-18 to a BPS-21 post, was challenged. According to rules the promotion of an officer is stopped even if an inquiry is pending against him. Consider why was Cheema incongruously promoted to BS-20 contrary to the rules the day after his arrest? His educational qualification, MA in Mass Communications, has no relevance to the thermal power company of which he is the CEO.
The “strikers” threatened and cajoled their PAS colleague and PMS, (previously the Provincial Civil Service (PCS)) officers to join their illegal protest. Only a handful of PAS (about 18 out of 250, less than 10%) and about 18-20 PMS officers out of 1400 (less than 2%) joined in. Individual protest because of genuine grievance can be condoned but a deliberate collective attempt from the very heart of government to threaten and intimidate others makes it mutiny, pure and simple, and incitement thereof. An overwhelming majority of PAS and PMS officers displayed tremendous discipline by remaining loyal to the institution despite dire threats from the influential strikers. To their credit the Punjab Police hierarchy led by the IG refused the mutineers’ incitement to take armed action against NAB officials, this could have escalated into violence. Many eminent legal counsels labeled this as outright treason. My good friend Aitzaz Ahsan said, “Imran Khan may or may not be a ladla (spoiled brat), they were “Bigre ladla” (misguided brats).
Everyone who participated in the strike should immediately be suspended. Did bureaucrats resort to defiance of the rule of law and good governance in this fashion in Balochistan, Sindh, and KPK when officers were arrested over corruption charges? Who and what is the mutineers’ motivation and the influence thereof needs questioning. With Nawaz Sharif berating the judiciary (and the Army) in most derogatory language for months, this was inevitable as a desperate final ploy. Bureaucrats close to the Sharifs feel they are above the law, rumors are that this mutiny was initiated at behest of the Sharifs to test the system. Those taking part in the mutiny must be investigated for living beyond their known means of income. Projecting the strike as “total” and “peaceful”, what were elements in the media paid for propagating the blatantly fake news that gave a public perception of outright revolt against NAB’s actions? On the other hand, to stop NAB or the SC being pressurized, retired civil and armed forces personnel in a show of unity and patriotism voiced their opposition to the unlawful boycott and offered their services to replace the mutineers without any remuneration.
Criminal Penal Code (CrPC) 196 bars legal proceeding in cases against state officials based on FIR only and requires a formal complaint in the court by an officer formally nominated by the govt (Federal or Provincial) depending on the jurisdiction. Can this happen with complete control in the hands of the criminals themselves? CrPC, Ch-6, Sec 124-A the charge of sedition, comes closest to incitement. Not responding to NAB’s repeated summons tantamounts to considering oneself above the Law, the State and any prevailing order in the Country. Section 31 of NAO pertaining to prohibition to hamper investigation lays boundaries because of which Umar Rasool and Shahbaz’s other “blue-eyed” can get rigorous imprisonment up to ten years. Officials of PAS Group indulging in misconduct ran afoul of Punjab Esta Code 2013, the rules of business and the oath administered to them. NAB can lodge an FIR against the mutineers under section 189 P.P.C and 186 P.P.C for causing obstruction to discharge of public functions by NAB’s officers, leading to imprisonment and heavy fines as a future deterrent for other politicized bureaucracy. NAB has all the evidence it needs to indict the mutineers for consciously, deliberately and with malice, compromise, hamper, mislead, jeopardize and/or derail an inquiry under process before NAB. At the very minimum, they should be tried for mutiny, or incitement to mutiny thereof, etc. NAB’s magnificent performance, particularly NAB Punjab’s, must be commended, NAB Chairman Honourable Justice (Retd) Javed Iqbal must stay the course!
No mean coincidence that 100% of the mutineers were known Shahbaz’s blue-eyed bureaucratic coterie? Could they act without the blessings of the Interim PML (N) President? Has he condemned it? Devoted to serving the people a skilled, motivated and efficient civil service with professional ethos is an effective mechanism for good governance. Those who plot against the state and resort to mutiny must never be allowed to remain in government for even one day. The crime against an individual can be condoned but anything against the state tantamounts to destroying the whole edifice and razing it to ground, the country will head into anarchy if action is not taken immediately.
The writer is a defense and security analyst.