LAHORE: The National Accoun­tability Bureau’s (NAB) crackdown against corruption, seemingly targeted against leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and those close to it, appears to have deepened the fault lines in Punjab’s power centre as the recent arrest of a high-ranking administrative officer has drawn sharp protest from certain quarters in the provincial bureaucracy and many senior PML-N leaders, including National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq and Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal.

While the treasury benches of the Punjab Assembly condemned former Lahore Development Authority director general Ahad Cheema’s arrest in a housing scheme scam, the leaders of opposition parties urged the Punjab bureaucracy to distance itself from the tussle between the ruling party and state institutions.

There was a rebellion afoot in the Punjab bureaucracy, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Asif Ali Zardari alleged at a press conference on Friday, adding that this was the result of a conspiracy hatched against the state and its institutions. Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chief Imran Khan tweeted: “Utterly shameful how bureaucracy belonging to PAS (Pakistan Administrative Service) has chosen to protest over accountability and arrest of Cheema, clearly SS’s (Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif) front man.”

Bureaucracy divided over mode of protest against Ahad Cheema’s arrest

A large number of senior officers, including divisional commissioners, deputy commissioners and assistant commissioners from all districts of the Punjab arrived in Lahore on Friday to participate in a closed-door meeting called by the additional chief secretary at the Government Officers Residence (GOR).

Yet the PAS officers appear divided on the mode of protest against, what they say is, the humiliating treatment meted out to their colleague. The chief secretary and several of his secretaries remained present in their offices throughout the day, even as the organisers of the meeting stressed that they would not go to work till the law enforcement agencies, politicians and courts stopped humiliating their seniors.

However, many of the participants of the meeting as well as those who remained in their offices maintained that it would not be wise for them to jump into an institutional war. Some of them were of the opinion that it would be better for them to demand dignity without leaving their offices.

The Punjab cabinet met for the first time in its history to discuss the matter and decided that they would approach the federal government to seek its role in the “supremacy of law”.

The participants of the meeting chaired by CM Sharif expressed “deep concern” over the arrest of Mr Cheema, who currently heads the Quaid-i-Azam Thermal Power Lim­ited, and is a former DG of the Lahore Development Authority. He was a BS-19 officer of PAS who was promoted to BS-20 a day after his arrest.

Speaking to reporters after attending an event at the Lahore College for Women University on Friday, Federal Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal said the NAB was attempting to influence and change the loyalties of politicians through its actions. He said this had happened before when NAB officials had started registering cases against PML-N leaders at the behest of military dictator retired Gen Pervez Musharraf. They are now trying to break their political association with former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, he alleged.

Separately, NA Speaker Ayaz Sadiq expressed concern over the way Mr Cheema was arrested, saying that the way NAB had released Mr Cheema’s picture behind bars, and the way he was brought to court in an armoured personnel carrier as if he was a terrorist, was only meant to humiliate him.

“I will appeal to the NAB chairman not to humiliate people in this manner,” Mr Sadiq said, while talking to reporters here on Friday. “It appears as if NAB is giving a message to politicians and bureaucrats that they are the target,” he said, adding that all institutions should work within their limits.

Mr Sadiq further said that Mr Cheema’s arrest at the inquiry stage was not justified. “Ahad Cheema was not fleeing the country when the NAB arrested him...No one raises their voice for a guilty person...No one tolerates such humiliation,” he said.

The opposition parties in the Punjab Assembly, however, demanded to know why Mr Cheema was promoted the day after he was arrested by NAB.

Leader of the Opposition Mian Mehmoodur Rashid, joined by members of the opposition, lashed out at the provincial government while lauding the NAB’s action against Mr Cheema.

“What kind of a message does the government want to convey by promoting an officer held on corruption charges,” asked a PTI lawmaker, adding that the government had a history of protecting and promoting corruption and corrupt officers. He asked how the bureaucracy could go on strike without the government’s blessings.

Published in Dawn, February 24th, 2018

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