By Shaheen Sehbai
THE ECL BAN on the entire PPP/Sindh leadership and key officials, barring them from leaving the country, marks the sudden start of
an inevitable battle that could either decimate the PPP top brass or leave Imran Khan or the higher courts with a fatal black eye.
The JIT report has amazed many with its speed, its intensity and its methodical deep reach and astounding penetration to bring the PPP and its silent and over-confident
collaborators in many sectors head to head.
A close look at the money-flow chart tells us about the massive investigation into what could easily become the biggest ever money-laundering scam unearthed anywhere in the world in such a professional manner.
It tells us many things in hindsight. First of all the decision to form a JIT to probe this scam, which began with the disclosure of a few suspicious accounts, was well thought out. By involving the ISI and banking officials, truth-seekers ensured that nothing that was relevant was left out.
All acknowledge that Asif Ali Zardari was deeply involved in such dubious scams for years but no one had so far been able to grab this slippery fish as it swished out every time a net was laid. He remained in jail for years but was not indicted or convicted. The then army ruler was using him as a blackmailing lever against Benazir, not interested in actually indicting or punishing him for his deeds.
An obvious NRO followed and all his cases were dropped, no matter how strong and credible the evidence that had been gathered by agencies and prosecutors. BB’s death changed the scenario and emerging from oblivion Zardari was now in a position to blackmail the establishment and had to be accommodated. So his crimes were ignored, he was given a free passage to become the head of state and run the country.
He ran amok and with a vengeance. This time he had become wiser than the wise men of Gotham. He knew how to use, misuse and abuse the legal system. He decided to legally get clean chits from compliant courts. He deployed hi-profile attorneys, misused diplomats like Wajid Shamsul Hasan and Husain Haqqani to steal and destroy the evidence, mysterious fires in all critical storages where original documents were archived broke out, photo-copies available elsewhere were challenged, compromised members of the judiciary were unable to stand up against a strong ruling mafia.
He got acquittals from almost all the cases, never on merit and on evidence or lack of it, but on technical grounds. He could now claim he had been exonerated and dry- cleaned, whitewashed. He seriously believed so but not countless others who had been cheated and left bruised and defrauded by him and the system.
Feeling confident, though politically cut to a fraction of what BB’s PPP once looked like, Zardari went on a spree in the spheres that he still controlled — Sindh Government, some banks and industrial units he had created as part of the master plan of his money laundering scheme, many front men, even rickshaw drivers and ice cream vendors.
The JIT has detailed the flow of money from one end to the other, with bank accounts, vouchers, subsidies to his own industrial units and so on. The scheme expanded in 4 to 5 years to a global network that had successfully stolen government funds, hijacked projects and recycled them into mega showpieces like the 64-storey Bahria skyscraper in Karachi, vast lands spreading on thousands of acres given to Malik Riaz, free palaces gifted to him in return and on and on. Even birthday cakes were brought from fake accounts, as were lunches and dinners for Bilawal House residents.
It was a free-for-all party, nay an orgy, on state account and all were enjoying as if they would never be caught. Luckily or unluckily for PPP, Panama happened and the so far frustrated and almost defeated establishment that always wanted to pounce on Nawaz and Zardari, found a platform they could put their toes on.
Blunders and mistakes by Nawaz led to his government and family sinking into the Panama whirlpool day by day until his government went down and his political fortunes drowned with the Imran Khan upsurge. Nawaz was becoming history but Zardari was rejoicing as if he would have a free hand. Not so. Planners were waiting for the first big fish to be netted so that they could then go for the next one.
With Nawaz gone, Zardari was next and the tons of evidence that had already been gathered in years were waiting to be used. Zardari’s luck and tricks had eluded the sinkhole for way too long. No more. As soon as the Supreme Court found that the fake account cases could rope in Zardari, they decided to expand the probe and bring in ISI and others. That was the moment many had been waiting for years. The data that they had to collect was already with them, in raw shape, which Zardari had never allowed to be presented in any court.
Quickly the JIT jumped on all the records, sent delegations abroad to confirm and tie up loose ends, grab those who had been used as front men, many of whom were already in their custody and had deposed like Lyari’s Uzair Baloch, Anwar Majid and his family, Dr Asim Hussain, Hussain Lawai and others. Tons of facts existed and had simply to be collated, confirmed and dots connected, T’s needed to be crossed. Much of what the JIT needed was achieved quickly.
When the report was sent in to SC in 26- volumes, it was a miraculous job. Zardari was expecting something nasty but not a nuclear bomb like this. He went ballistic and was assured by paid and unpaid loyal attorneys that he should not panic, as he will get time, like Nawaz. The PPP leadership was then called in and asked to stand up. Shamelessly and almost helplessly the leadership had no option but to buckle in and start speaking for the criminals en bloc. Where else in the world does a political party comes to whitewash crimes committed by a leader or a family of leaders.
This helpless crowd, blackmailed and coerced by the besieged leaders, joined in to declare war on Imran Khan, who by the way had little to do with all what had happened to either Nawaz or Zardari. It was all said and done before even PTI came into power. But Zardari had to find a political target as he had not enough guts to directly challenge the army and the courts as he had foolishlydone 3 years ago and then had to run for his life abroad.
So in this milieu when Zardari opened fire on Imran Khan, the PTI also found an easy way out to deflect the criticism on its own performance by taking on the Sindhi criminals. When the JIT named all these guys, Imran Khan had to take the decision to apply the law and put them on ECL, at least until the Supreme Court decides what to do with the JIT report.
But the super-hype thus created has put everyone in a tight corner. Neither the courts can back down nor the PTI government can offer any olive branch. Law has to take its course, which means the Centre is directly up against the province. An overview of the situation looks like the entire Sindh government is decapitated with the PPP top figures (Zardari, Faryal, Bilawal, Murad Ali Shah, Qaim Ali Shah, Ali Mehr, Siyaal, etc), many ministers, All-the-Zardari’s hit-men (Omni Group and family Anwar Majid, sons, employees), Riaz Laljee, Aijaz Haroon (PIA), old and new collaborators in banks (Lawai (Summit) Ali Raza (NBP) Ahsan Raza Durrani (Summit) Ahsan Tariq and Bilal Sheikh (Sindh Bank) Tahir Mahmood (SECP) and scores of others, all confined and ordered not to leave the country.
With threat of arrests hanging over all these figures running Sindh, it is but natural that one province has come to a standstill, no matter how loud or big the claims of the besieged PPP men may sound. What needs to be highlighted is that the confrontation is going to make or break either of the parties, if the courts, the silent establishment, the “khalai makhlooq” (alienforces), do not cave in. Sooner than later someone has to take charge of running the province and the system.
If the PPP makes the foolish decision of using the government resources to fight back criminal charges against Zardari and family, the Centre will have to quickly take charge and stop it. No government or establishment can allow a province or a party to blackmail The State for saving some corrupt leaders being held accountable for their crimes. Nawaz and PML-N were in the same position and they made some sabre-rattling statements but quickly realized it was hitting the head against the wall and shrunk into their cages.
Tehrik Labbaik did the same mistake and is now neutralized. Zardari is more vulnerable and has put his own son into jeopardy as well. He tried to show some teeth three years back but quickly escaped. Now he is caught and cannot even squeak. Meekly and very scared, he is telling his party not to fear. His body language betrays him. The mountain of evidence against him that could never be used before is now ready to fall on his head.
Every tyrant has his day of reckoning. Every thief has his Karma.