Serious allegations

Published September 6, 2020

IT is the kind of explosive story that media outlets in Pakistan’s increasingly restrictive journalism landscape prefer to not touch, or at most, handle as gingerly as they would unexploded ordnance. A simultaneous tactic is to shoot the messenger. The sensational report published on Aug 27 on the Fact Focus website about the business empire that the family of retired Lt Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa, in sync with his rise in the military, had allegedly amassed in the US is an apt example.

Following a deafening silence on the claims made in the story, a vicious campaign was launched on one private TV channel and a couple of right-wing newspapers to discredit and malign the writer, Ahmed Noorani, as ‘anti-state’ and an ‘enemy agent’. Predictably, that snowballed into death threats being hurled at him on social media. Incidentally, in 2017, Mr Noorani was waylaid and beaten in a near-fatal attack in Islamabad; no one was even arrested for the crime.

Mr Bajwa, who is also chairman CPEC Authority, has described the report as “malicious propaganda” and issued a four-page detailed rebuttal challenging each claim made in the story. Moreover, he tendered his resignation from his post as special adviser to the prime minister — a resignation that Imran Khan did not accept. The PTI’s official Twitter account said Mr Khan was satisfied with the evidence provided by Mr Bajwa about his family’s assets.

However, the controversy cannot be wished away so easily; indeed it has been fanned further by Mr Khan’s response. Having beaten the drums of accountability so loudly where the political opposition is concerned, the government has opened itself up to unseemly mutterings about ‘selective NROs’.

Mr Bajwa took the right decision by attempting to resign as SAPM, even though he did not choose to relinquish his charge as chairman CPEC Authority. Nevertheless, the gravity of the allegations against him is such that notwithstanding the prime minister’s vote of confidence, the retired general needs to be more forthcoming in terms of documentation, particularly as he claims he can present the complete money trail.

A perception that he is shying away from accountability, like some politicians, would reflect negatively on him. Even if his assertion is correct that no wrongdoing is involved, he must for the sake of transparency, and to clear his name and that of his family, demonstrate willingness to cooperate with an FBR or NAB investigation.

Published in Dawn, September 6th, 2020

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