ISLAMABAD, July 7: On July 5, when the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and its attached departments were busy cursing General Zia for toppling the PPP government and imposing martial law in 1977, two of the ministry’s top officials locked horns behind the scene in a sheer show of strength, officials close to the meeting told Dawn.

The Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation (PBC) had convened a meeting of its board of directors which the then secretary information Taimoor Azmat Usman, as the ex-officio chairman of the PBC, was supposed to chair. However, he didn’t want Director General PBC Murtaza Solangi to sit in the meeting. The reason? Secretary Usman was of the view that since the PBC chief’s contract had expired on June 15, he can’t attend the meeting.

As the Grapevine has it, before proceeding to the PBC headquarter, where the meeting was scheduled, the former secretary information asked Mr Solangi through one of his staff members to stay away as the prime minister was yet to renew his contract.

Still, to his utter surprise, Mr Usman found Mr Solangi sitting on the meeting table. Immediately after the meeting formally opened, Mr Usman asked Mr Solangi to leave.

In response, a curtained up, Mr Solangi, who draws strength from his close association with the PPP leadership, not only refused to quit but asked the chair to go away if he wasn’t feeling comfortable chairing the sitting. The two stared at each other for a while and then secretary Usman quit the scene ordering PBC directors to come over to his office for the meeting.

Mr Solangi, on the other hand, directed them to stay put.

Soon after the clash, the two scrambled and made frenetic calls to their respective saviours explaining their side of the story, according to officials of the information ministry.

Answering a question, an information ministry official said even if it was a routine transfer, those who were witness to the July 5 meeting would definitely think Mr Solangi had prevailed in the end.

Mr Usman was already looking after the establishment division as an additional responsibility and was one of the federal secretaries who on July 7 got their departments reshuffled by Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf.

Among his close circles, Mr Solangi never stops boasting about his direct access to the top PPP leadership, which he every now and then has adequately demonstrated. In December 2010, the then Public Accounts Committee Chairman Chaudhry Nisar Ali expelled him from a meeting on learning that his contract was yet to be renewed by the prime minister. The same night, however, the government renewed his contract till further orders. It looks plausible that Mr Solangi has used the same connection to get rid of Mr Usman, argued the information ministry official.

On the other hand, Mr Usman is also considered a well-connected person. Reportedly, he has the support of Salman Farooqi, the secretary general to the president, besides having good rapport with information minister and PPP’s information secretary Qamar Zaman Kaira. To his credit, Mr Usman also has had exhibited his access to power corridors.

Throughout her stint as information minister, Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan wanted to change him but to no avail. More than once, she publicly admitted that her secretary information didn’t follow her orders and she had no say in running the ministry’s affairs.

The sources confirmed that the director general PBC had his contract expired on June 15 but summary for its renewal was already with the prime minister secretariat which got delayed due to change of the prime minister.

“Mr Usman and Mr Solangi have never been friendly to each other. On more than one occasions, the two have written against each other to the top bosses. Mr Solangi claims that under the PBC act he is answerable only to his appointing authority – the prime minister - not the secretary information. The issue remained a bone of contention between the two till July 6 when Mr Usman was transferred to the establishment division,” added the official.

When asked why Mr Solangi succeeded against Mr Usman when both were well connected, the official said, “according to one version doing the round in the ministry, Mr Solangi managed to have personal audience with the PPP co-chairman that led to transfer of Mr Usman.”

However, none of the two were available to comment on the story despite repeated attempts made by Dawn.

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