June 22, 2012
By Saeed Qureshi
The appointment of Raja Pervez Ashraf as a new prime minister of Pakistan is like adding insult to injury or rubbing salt on the inflicted wound. If the previously proposed Prime Minister Makhdoom Shahabuddin was a felon so is Raja Pervez Ashraf notoriously known as Raja rental? One wonders as to why the PPP’s incumbent government is so barren of the individuals with fair name and good reputation!
President Zardari, like a smart chessboard king retreats and advances his foot soldiers as the situation demands. In his latest move, in order to succeed the ousted prime minster Gillani, he has brought to the fore another person who is up to neck in kickback scams. There is no dearth of corrupt and greedy individuals in the hierarchy of the Pakistan People’s Party. President Zardari would not like an honest and principled person to be his associate in power either as minister or in the party office.
The outgoing Prime Minister Gillani was corrupt yet was as much docile and subservient to the whims and prerogatives of the president as the newly elected prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf would be. President Zardari wants rubber stamp persons, who with closed eyes should dance to his tunes like puppets and follow his decisions and dictates with unquestionable subservience.
There cannot be a better person than Raja Ashraf for the kind of slavish mentality because of his sycophantic disposition and low lying temperament. But his most strident qualification is his unstinted and unconditional loyalty to the party.
Now when he stands elected and sworn in as the 25th prime minister of Pakistan, Prime Minister Raja would find a myriad of horrendous problems staring in his face. To be in power for PPP as the majority party in these turbulent times is becoming a colossal challenge for their loathsome mode of governance tarred with an abundance of abominable scams and lurid scandals revolving around gross misuse of power and money grabbing by every conceivable mean.
There are grave corruption allegations pending against Raja Pervez Ashraf for receiving kickbacks in rental power projects and buying properties in London. The Supreme Court of Pakistan is hearing cases pertaining to these charges. Because of these cases, he resigned his ministerial position under public and judicial pressure. Interestingly, the identical petitions were filed by the then a cabinet colleague the Housing Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat as well as PML-N MNA Khawaja Asif on deliberate favoritism in giving contracts for rental power projects.
In compliance with a decision of the Supreme Court, the National Accountability Bureau placed the names of 19 accused in the exit control list (ECL) for alleged irregularities and non-transparency in rental power projects (RPPs). That list includes four ministers including Raja Pervez Ashraf and four former secretaries. While the court rescinded the RPPs, it also directed NAB Chairman Admiral (Retd) Fasih Bokhari to proceed with corruption references against the culprits of this huge scam. The NAB also seized property of 12 RPPs and asked the district coordination officers and deputy commissioners concerned to take action if their owners tried to transfer the property
The most daring and daunting challenge for Raja Sahib would be to write to the Swiss courts for reopening the pending money laundering cases against president Zardari. If Somehow Raja complies with the verdict of the Supreme Court, he will earn the ire of his powerful and crafty boss and might be replaced by someone else. If he ignores Supreme Court’s directives, the impasse and collision with the judiciary would remain as rife as it has been all along since the handing out of the verdict by the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
The cases against Zardari date to the 1990s, when he and Benazir Bhutto were alleged to have laundered $60 million of graft money in Swiss banks, paid by companies seeking lucrative contracts. The Swiss shelved the cases in 2008 after Zardari became the president of Pakistan.
One would wonder how the incumbent prime minister whose role is to fill the interim period till elections to be held February 2013, deal with that guardian knot. His evasion, delay or refusal to write might entail a similar action from the Supreme Court and the resultant disqualification. To repeat the same argument, if per say, he writes a letter howsoever diluted, it would have to be done with the express consent of the principal accused president Zardari. On the contrary, in case of any ambivalence exhibited by Raja Ashraf like his predecessor, he may also be disqualified and shown the way-out.
But perhaps the PPP government wants to buy time till the next elections so that it can proudly claim the completion of full five years’ term in office. But does president Zardari stand a chance to be reelected on the expiry of his term? If he is not reelected because of the defeat of PPP in the general elections, what could be his reaction or strategy to counter that situation?
Understandably the other party would prefer to bring a head of state of their own choice. If president cannot return to the presidency, his privilege or exemptions from legal actions would also be lifted. Will he flee to the foreign sanctuaries or fight the legal battle?
So the coming few months seem to be strewn with events that could be chaotic and extension of the ongoing political turbulence and standoff on one side between the superior judiciary and the government and between the parties in power and those in opposition on the other. With the elections season drawing near, there cannot be any possibility of a political truce or lull between the colliding parties until the announcement of the elections dates.