Prime Minister Imran Khan on Sunday took notice of the appointment of state minister and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) leader Zartaj Gul's sister to the National Counter Terrorism Authority (Nacta) after it generated a debate about the government's meritocracy.
Special assistant to the prime minister Naeemul Haque tweeted that the premier had directed Minister of State for Climate Change Zartaj Gul to withdraw a letter she wrote to Nacta regarding her sister's appointment.
"This was against the ethics of PTI, which has always opposed nepotism. No one in the PTI government can promote their relatives/friends by using their positions," Haque said.
Haque appeared to be referring to a letter dated Feb 27, 2019, written by an individual in Zartaj's office to Nacta, which cited a telephonic conversation regarding Shabnam Gul's appointment in Nacta.
A copy of the letter is circulating on social media. When contacted by DawnNewsTV, Nacta initially declined to comment on the authenticity of the letter received, but a later statement issued by a spokesperson said: "Zartaj Gul did not write any letter. The letter attributed to her, which is being discussed in the media, was written by Zartaj Gul's principal staff officer to the secretary Interior."
Shabnam Gul, a BPS-18 officer, was serving as assistant professor in the International Relations Department of the Lahore College for Women University (LCWU) and was appointed as director (BPS-19) in Nacta, Islamabad, on deputation for three years. According to a copy of her CV obtained by DawnNewsTV, she was employed by LCWU in Dec 2006.
LCWU Vice Chancellor Dr Farkhanda Manzoor confirmed to Dawn that Nacta had requisitioned that the services of Shabnam Gul be placed at its disposal.
According to a Nacta notification, "The services of Ms Shabnam Gul, Assistant Professor, LCWU, are required for her posting against an available vacant post of Director (BS-19) in Nacta in Islamabad on a deputation basis."
However, Nacta had on Saturday clarified that Shabnam's appointment as a director would materialise only after a notification is issued in this regard by the Establishment Division.
The appointment drew ire on social media after people questioned the role of Shabnam's sister, a PTI minister, in her appointment. It was also reported that Shabnam and another researcher had allegedly been disqualified by the Punjab University for plagiarism.
However, Punjab University assistant professor in the Kashmiriyat department, Sardar Asghar Iqbal told Dawn.com that the Shabnam Gul who was disqualified by the university on charges of plagiarism in 2007 is not the sister of federal minister Zartaj Gul, thus the connection being made in this regard is inaccurate.
An April 2 notification issued by LCWU also made the rounds on social media on Sunday. The authenticity of the notification was confirmed by the university to DawnNewsTV.
The notification refers to a meeting that took place on March 6, in which the Advance Studies and Research Board had decided to allow Shabnam Gul and two others to continue their PhD research work and complete their theses at the university's Political Science Department.
It states: "It is hereby notified that the revised titles of these synopses [of the theses] after re-registration presented by the following students of the Political Science Department are approved and they are allowed to continue their research work for the PhD degree under the supervision of respective supervisors."
According to a copy of Shabnam Gul's CV, she is "currently working on the process of submitting final thesis for internal and external evaluation" for her PhD in Political Science. The topic of research is "War Against Terrorism: A case study of Pakistan 2001-2013".
State minister Zartaj Gul took to Twitter late on Saturday night to tweet Nacta's notification regarding the matter. Describing it as a "comprehensive clarification", Zartaj claimed it "blew away the nonsense being peddled in a section of the local media regarding supposed breach of merit".
"One cannot disenfranchise a deserving candidate just because they happen to be related to a government minister," she said.
Nacta in its notification had explained that it had "followed 100 per cent merit and due process" in the requisitioning of the services of Shabnam Gul.
"Nacta received a total of 12 requests from employees of different federal and provincial government departments working in BS17-19 for posting in Nacta on deputation basis," a notification issued by the body on June 1 said.
"A three-member committee was constituted to interview these applicants and shortlist the suitable officers," it said.
"Interviews were conducted on May 14, 2019, and the committee recommended six of the 12 candidates for sending their cases to the Establishment division for further processing," the notification added.
It said that Shabnam Gul was one of the selected candidates recommended on the basis of merit by the committee as she "is a PhD scholar with several papers on counter-extremism and terrorism, and [was] found appropriate and relevant for the research wing".
Additional reporting by Imran Gabol.