Saturday Feb 23, 2019
The high-profile arrest of Sindh Assembly Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani on Wednesday signals the beginning of the end of the unfinished agenda of the 2013 Karachi operation, launched to eradicate terrorism, militant wings of political parties, terror financing, and corruption.
It seems that the back-to-back arrests of the former president's men may conclude with the nabbing of the "key man" himself.
Interestingly, even with the change of government in 2018, the main objective of the operating authorities remains unchanged. On the contrary, with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in the centre and Imran Khan as prime minister, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) have emerged more powerful in the last six months and further expanded their scope of action.
While all the ex-president’s men are now in trouble, the man himself, Asif Ali Zardari, announced on Wednesday that he always considered "prison as his second home". His first home once used to be the Prime Minister House, and later the President House. It is highly unlikely that Zardari will be revisiting his first home again, but the possibility of him ending up in his second home are high.
And if that were to happen, how will his party, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), counter the move? One option will be to use the Parliament and provincial assemblies to lodge a protest, and in turn create political turmoil. Sources within the party say Zardari may even be ready to sacrifice his men, in case the NAB comes looking for him.
Durrani was arrested by the anti-graft bureau from Islamabad in connection to a 2008 probe for allegedly owning assets beyond his means of income. The speaker could be the latest addition to the 2013 clean-up operation, which saw the targeting of Zardari's other men, Dr Asim Hussain, Manzoor Kaka, Nisar Morai, and Sharjeel Inam Memon.
In 2015, for the first time in years, the NAB and FIA resuscitated, it seems, as big stories of corruption began to make front-page news and bulletins. That immediately led to tension between the PPP and then ruling party, the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N). And for the first time, the Sindh government threatened to withdraw the powers of the paramilitary forces in the province.
Dr Asim Hussain's arrest in the Rs460 billion NAB case, and another of providing medical treatment to terrorists, was the turning point. It led to the breakup of relations between former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari.
The probe against the Omni Group and Anwar Majeed and Co. was also initiated by the NAB during the previous government's tenure. Majeed’s office and home were raided as a result.
Yet, the last nail in the coffin of the Sharif-Zardari ties came when one of the premier intelligence agencies picked up three close aides of Zardari, one from Islamabad and two from Sindh, and kept them under detention for a few days. This put an end to all kinds of political and even personal ties between the two leaders, despite Sharif's clarifications that he was not involved. He even told the then interior minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, to not go too far against the PPP.
Separately, the FIA initiated a high-profile probe into the fake accounts case on the report of the State Bank of Pakistan. In June 2015, the FIA raided the Sindh Building Control Authority's office and took away some 16,000 files, most of which were later handed over to the NAB, which spawned an investigation into the 'China-cutting' and 'Real estate' scam. During the course of investigation, the ex-president's man and head of the Sindh Building Control Authority (SBCA), Manzoor Kaka, managed to escape.
The anti-graft agencies then tightened their grip around alleged terror financing and money laundering by swooping the offices of the fisheries department. Nisar Morai, who is also considered close to Zardari, was arrested in connection to the case.
In 2015, for the first time an apex meeting was held, attended by Sharif, Zardari, former Chief of Army Staff General (retd) Raheel Sharif, the head of the intelligence agency, and Lt General Bilal Akbar, the then-DG Rangers Sindh. The Rangers presented a charge-sheet against the Sindh government, which shocked both Zardari and former Sindh chief minister Qaim Ali Shah.
This week, the PPP leadership and the Sindh government were expecting the arrest of Zardari, his sister, Faryal Talpur, and Murad Ali Shah after the Supreme Court rejected their review appeal in the benami accounts case. But NAB surprised them by going after Durrani instead.
Zardari would never take the risk of dissolving the Sindh Assembly or resigning from the assemblies, as the PPP leadership fears falling into a trap. This means that, in the coming days, more of the ex-president's men will be cuffed. But will this eventually lead to "the man" being arrested? Regarding which a reliable source said: "When it comes to arresting him, we do not want to bowl a no-ball."