"The first observation that I would like to make is this: you will no doubt agree with me that the first duty of a government is to maintain law and order, so that the life, property and religious beliefs of its subjects are fully protected by the state."
Such was the first dictum of the founder of this country delivered during his address of August 11, 1947, to the first constituent assembly of Pakistan. This 'first duty' has never been fulfilled, this country has never been run under either law or order, nor have we had an independent judiciary able to enforce both, nor a junta nor a parliament, nor an administration slightly interested in doing so. All that has been achieved is the loss of half the country within the space of 25 years of its life - a loss about which we are still arguing and speculating. What is now left to us seems, as things are at this point in time, to be doomed.
Another set of tapes has suddenly emerged, produced by yet another set of spooks. These were sent to The Sunday Times (London) which published an article on February 4 on the judicial system of our country, reproducing transcripts of the tapes. Yesterday, February 17, an NNI report had it that "the PPP International Secretariat has applied to The Sunday Times to get a copy of the said tapes so that they may be placed before the Supreme Court when it takes up the appeal of former premier Benazir Bhutto seeking an honourable acquittal from her conviction later this month, said a PPP press release......"
What seems odd about this is that on December, 27, 2000, a Karachi English daily carried an NNI story headed: 'Benazir may return with tapes to overturn trial: report'. This report told us that: "A long-time confidant of PPP chairperson and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in London, Bashir Riaz, told the Indian daily [The Hindustan Times] "The PPP has a tape containing conversations between Saifur Rahman, chief of accountability bureau and close confident of Nawaz Sharif, and several judges which would make the whole trial and Bibi's conviction a farce. Bashir Riaz claimed to have the said tape in his possession."
On December 31, 2000, a PPI report in the same daily confirmed that the PPP had the tapes: "....Riaz said that the PPP wanted to take immediate steps to clear Benazir's name. He said that the party had new evidence that proved the Nawaz government had pressured the judiciary to convict Benazir. 'We've got excellent tape recordings,' he added."
Now, if the PPP had the tapes in December, presumably the same tapes sent to The Sunday Times in February, how come the PPP is now making noises about asking The Sunday Times to let them have a copy of the tapes when they themselves are the providers of the tapes? This makes no sense.
Is it a question of selective amnesia or an obsessive disregard of facts?
On February 16, a Dawn Islamabad Bureau report from Attock Fort headed "Asif ready to pay 90 per cent property in 'his name'." It read: "Asif Zardari, jailed husband of former prime minister Ms Benazir Bhutto, said on Thursday that he was ready to hand over all his properties to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) if only 10 per cent of those properties which NAB claims are worth $ 1.5 billion is given to him."
Presumably husband Asif is referring to is the $ 1.5 billion worth of assets listed in an Islamabad daily of February 7. These covert accounts were:
USA - Lapworth Investment Inc; Intrafood Inc; Dynatel Trading Company; A. S. Reality Inc; Bon Voyage Travel Consultants Inc;
British Virgin Islands - Bomer Finance Inc; Mariston Securities Inc; Marleton Business S.A.; Capricorn Trading S.A.; Dargal Associated S.A.; Pagarita Consulting Inc; Marvil Associated Inc; Penbury Finance Ltd; Oxton Trading Ltd; Brinslen Invest S.A.; Climitex Holding S.A.; Elkins Holding S.A.; Minterier Invest Limited (Asif is a true joker - this is his short form for our interior ministry); Silver Nut Investments Inc; Tacolen Investment Ltd; Tulcroton Invest S.A.; Marledon Invest S.A.; Dustan Trading Inc; Reconstruction and Development Finance Inc; Nasseem Alexander Inc. (Some of these names are also included in the US Senate Committee Report, details of which were printed in this column last Sunday.)
Enumerating these accounts, according to the Islamabad daily: "Based on available data, the total value of the located assets amount to $ 1.5 billion approximately, as estimated." Also listed are various other real estate properties owned by Benasif & Co in UK, France and the US.
Asif's generous offer is reminiscent of the statement made on the floor of the Senate at the end of 1997 by the then law minister, Khalid Anwer. Following a discovery of the celebrated bank accounts in Switzerland, Khalid noted that Benazir had denied that the dummy companies in whose names the money was lying were beneficially owned by her or by her husband. He suggested a simple solution to resolve the entire controversy once and for all. All Benazir and Asif had to do was to write a one sentence letter to the Swiss banks stating that they had no objection if the money lying there was transferred to the Government of Pakistan. If they were not the beneficial owners, the banks would disregard their statement, but if they were, the money would be transferred to our government. That would have ended the matter.
On the subject of matters of public interest, not minor by any means, such as the desecration of the people's parks and open spaces, the people may be interested to know how our conscientious judiciary deals with public interest cases filed in our courts in which politicians are involved. Take the case of the infamous Costa Livina under construction in the Bagh-e-Ibne-Qasim (Clifton Park).
In 1972, Kehkashan Scheme 5 (Clifton) was illegally amended to include an observation tower with a revolving restaurant atop it to be built within the people's park. Our political vultures had an interest in the desecration of the 132 acres of open space demarcated for the use and pleasure of the public. In 1976, this tower plot (ST-15 Block 3) was allotted to Marvi Investments ostensibly for the construction of the tower. In April 1990, this amenity plot was illegally converted into a commercial plot and within a month the ownership was transferred to Asif-cronies Pearl Builders, Dr Zulfikar Mirza & Co. Within two months, the KBCA approved a plan for the construction of a 17-storey high-rise upon which was shown a revolving restaurant.
The citizens intervened with the authorities; political shenanigans followed; the citizens naturally lost. In 1993 the builders commenced construction and the citizens filed a constitutional petition in the Sindh High Court. In January 1994, the court granted status quo and the construction was stopped. In September 1995, judges of the High Court dismissed the citizens' petition. In 1996, an appeal was filed in the Supreme Court and the construction was once again stopped. In 1999, a five-member bench heard the appeal and then gave a detailed order - no high-rise to be constructed; what had so far been constructed was to be demolished, the builders to submit a revised plan for the tower. The citizens had won.
The builders, absconders and others filed a review application in the Supreme Court which was dismissed on merit. They then filed a revised plan which was rejected by the KBCA stating that it was contrary to the Supreme Court judgement. Another review application was filed in the Supreme Court seeking a review of the same court's review order. No provision in law exists for such a move. One judge of our apex court referred the matter to be heard by a five-member bench of his court. The application is still pending.
In August 1999, the builders filed a suit of sorts in the Sindh High Court which was dismissed. Yet another suit was filed (1756/99) and a single judge restrained the KBCA from demolishing the building. In 2000, the citizens applied to the Sindh High Court for a rejection of this suit. The case was heard/adjourned on August 15, 16 and 29, on September 18, on October 10, on November 6, 21, and 29, on December 4, 7, 14, 18 and 21. On the last date the hearings were completed and the judge reserved his order.
The half-constructed high-rise still stands despite the Supreme Court orders, and the politicians and absconders involved are anxiously waiting for 'the restoration of democracy'.