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Bilawal condemns Agha Siraj Durrani's arrest by the 'bureau of political engineering'

Updated March 13, 2019

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PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari  addressing a press conference in Karachi. — DawnNewsTV
PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari addressing a press conference in Karachi. — DawnNewsTV

PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Wednesday said the move by the National Accountability Bureau — which he referred to as the "bureau of political engineering" — to arrest the speaker of the Sindh Assembly on "trumped-up charges" was highly condemnable.

"I object [and] I condemn [it] in the strongest possible words," he said while addressing a wide-ranging press conference at the Sindh Assembly in Karachi.

The PPP chairman said it was known that NAB's allegation of assets beyond means can be levelled against anyone and added that "the law is not the same for every Pakistani".

He said the allegation could be levelled in a manner similar to when a police officer plants drugs or alcohol on an innocent person and jails them.

Bilawal said in the case of Durrani, he was taken into custody based on an allegation and there was no evidence of any corruption having been committed. He said if there had been evidence it would have been presented "but raiding his [Durrani's] house after the arrest gives the message that there was no evidence".

He said a raid could be carried out to find evidence, but also to falsify and plant it.

"You're giving a message like you did before," the PPP chairman said, without explaining.

He said the PPP could not tolerate the way Durrani's house was entered into following his arrest and added that it was against their human rights and religious beliefs.

Bilawal said the PPP and Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah had previously condemned the way the women in Durrani's family had been allegedly misbehaved with.

"I am sad to say that the chairman NAB has till today not taken any action against this very serious accusation, on this violation of human rights, on this violence against women ... no action was taken," he claimed.

"This silence gives us the message that the chairman NAB condones such actions," the PPP chairman said.

He demanded that the NAB chairman conduct an investigation and hold his officers accountable otherwise "we [ourselves] will have to take action".

Bilawal said actions allegedly conducted by NAB do not take place in any democracy or society with a rule of law. "Once again let me emphasise that the NAB should not be used for political engineering," the PPP chairman said.

He alleged that NAB was "founded" for the purpose of political engineering and termed the legislation which governs the bureau's functioning as a "black law".

Bilawal said this was why his mother, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, had said in the Charter of Democracy (CoD) that NAB needed to be done away with.

However, he conceded that it was partly his party's failure that it did not bring any reform to NAB while it was in power.

He remarked that NAB was such an institution that even if "an angel was made its chairman", only political engineering would take place there.

The PPP chairman alleged that the 'benami' or fake bank accounts case was also a form of political engineering and questioned the rationale behind the Supreme Court taking suo motu notice of such a case during the elections last year.

He recalled that the suo motu was taken due to violation of human rights because of slackness in the investigation, but added that in his perspective the case did not fall into the domain of suo motu or the violation of human rights.

"Even if it did, this case was not slack," Bilawal claimed, adding that a First Information Report was registered in the case, a preliminary report was presented and the case was ongoing in the banking courts.

"How can you say it is slack?" he asked, and said that if this case from 2016 was seen to be not progressing, "then what about the cases regarding the murder of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the murder of Benazir Bhutto as well as the Asghar Khan case?".

He said alleged that the slackness in the investigation was all of a sudden turned into a human rights case, in what he claimed was a response to a press conference he held in Ghotki during the elections.

"But you don't see the worst rigging in the history, you don't see the violation of human rights, the ending of freedom of press and freedom of speech," he said, without naming his addressee.

He alleged that the taking of a suo motu notice in the case sent the message that it is "all being done for political engineering".

He added that "balancing" was not a legal concept and without specifying who he believed guilty of indulging in the practice, he said, "You can't say in an open court [that] I want to balance it [the investigation, so] I'll make a joint investigation team (JIT)."

"This sends a very bad message."

Bilawal said that to then make representatives of the ISI sit on this JIT was an "undemocratic precedent that not only politicises the ISI but also politicises and militarises the judiciary."

He noted that this was a wrong decision that had been made.

Bilawal noted that as per Article 10-A of the Constitution, the Sindh chief minister and he had the right to a free and fair trial. However, he said this right was "undermined".

He said that for six months they had been the victims of "character assassination" in various forums and in front of various courts.

However, he said, not even once was CM Shah or himself given the opportunity to present their case before any court and added that no court had given them notice.

"The rule of law cannot function like this," he said, adding that even if a verdict was in favour of a witness or any accused it could not be given without telling them,

"The system cannot go on like this in this country, or in a democracy," he said.

The PPP chairman noted that another "obnoxious unconstitutional effort" was to shift the fake accounts case to Rawalpindi.

He said that this was a violation of the concept of jurisdiction and legally there was a concept of jurisdiction according to which a trial will take place where a crime is done or where an accused is based.

"But I don't know why there is such an interest [in making sure] that every time our trial should be done in Pindi," he remarked.

He asked that if the case, the FIR, the bank accounts, companies and transactions, in this case, are in Sindh, why was the case to be trialed in Pindi?

The PPP chairman said that the entire country had witnessed that injustice had been done with him and the way he was "dragged" into the case for political engineering.

He noted that the whole country had seen how the Chief Justice of Pakistan had summoned an ISI representative in an open court and asked him on whose instructions Bilawal's name had been included in the JIT.

"I still haven't received the answer to this," he remarked.

Bilawal claimed that in the same hearing, the chief justice had announced that he [Bilawal] was innocent and his name should be expunged from the JIT report and exit control list (ECL).

He noted that after this written orders came, which he said may have been written by someone else, which did not include the remarks mentioned above.

He added that he was shocked that when they had reviewed the decision, a judge had suggested that this had not happened and he had misunderstood.

Bilawal said that the entire media had reported on this and until today no clarification or rebuttal has come from the court.

"For me, this is very absurd. I think it can only be a mistake, an innocent mistake," he said.

He asked the Supreme Court to look at their records again as this gave a "very bad message to Pakistan" and added, "This will undermine the credibility of the institution of the judiciary."

The PPP chairman said that he wanted a democratic Pakistan but this could not happen until courts are strong and independent and make decisions on their own.

"Justice should be done and should also be seen to be done," he said.

Bilawal noted that Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa had recently said that the SC's journey of truth had begun and added that he was hopeful that the journey would begin with this fact.

"I want to reiterate that we want to see a strong judicial system in Pakistan," he said.

'PTI must distance itself from the past'

In response to a question regarding the National Action Plan (NAP), Bilawal said he had been raising his voice against terrorist and banned outfits since he had come into politics and talking about the implementation of the NAP.

He asked how the government could convince the opposition that it was serious about the NAP's implementation or about acting against banned outfits when, he alleged, members of such groups were "allies" for the PTI in the 2018 elections which brought it to power.

"The NAP was opposed just to help PTI in the election," Bilawal alleged, adding that they questioned the government's intentions because certain banned outfits were allegedly "rebranded" and brought into the mainstream to support PTI in the polls.

He alleged that during the elections, now Finance Minister Asad Umar had appeared before the media with the leader of the Harkatul Mujahideen (HuM) — which according to him was banned by the UN and Pakistan — who said that he had joined and supported the PTI.

Bilawal said his party would believe that the government is serious about taking action against banned outfits only when it shows some "confidence-building measures".

He said it had been their demand in the past and continued to be today that NAP should be acted upon to "save Pakistan".

The PPP chairman reiterated his demand for the formation of a joint parliamentary national security committee of both houses that had oversight of the entire national security policy and monitored the implementation of NAP.

"PTI has to distance itself from past statements and actions [allegedly] in support of terrorist organisations and banned organisations," he said. "They have to draw a line in the sand that 'that was the old PTI and now this is a new PTI'."

"Pakistan cannot afford for our prime minister and government to have this doubt hanging over our heads," he stated.

Bilawal went on to say that there are three ministers in the government who allegedly have "a record and history when it comes to banned organisations". He said he would not name them but might be forced to "if the government [does] not take action".

He alleged that one of these ministers publicly met with banned outfits during the election campaign and who to this day believes that if someone talks against such organisations, they are an "enemy of the country".

"If there is such a thought process then we can't accept that NAP will be acted upon," he said.

Bilawal claimed that a video had gone viral of another minister who he alleged had said that because PTI was in the government, no action would be taken against a specific banned organisation.

The third such minister, he alleged, is a veteran who becomes a minister in every "selected government"; was the "mouthpiece for a certain non-democratic thought process" and is a "propagandist".

He alleged that this minister had made statements and attended events of banned organisations in the past.

"These individuals must be immediately removed from Imran Khan's cabinet so that the opposition [can] believe that they are serious and want to take action against banned outfits," the PPP chairman said.