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EDITORIAL: To add one more item to the long and growing list of issues of discord between the government and the opposition, the Broadsheet conundrum has the two sides of the political divide at loggerheads again. This time the controversy revolves around the appointment of former Supreme Court Justice Azmat Saeed as the head of the inquiry commission on the Broadsheet scandal. Predictably, the two sides are resorting to objections, arguments, counter-arguments and even jibes at each other on the issue. The opposition’s rejection of former Justice Azmat Saeed’s appointment is founded on a perceived ‘conflict of interest’ since he was the National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB’s) deputy prosecutor general at the time when the NAB-Broadsheet agreement was signed in 2000, with Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) spokesperson Maryam Aurangzeb alleging that he was one of the negotiators in the deal and in his then capacity had made out cases against Nawaz Sharif. Second, he was a member of the Supreme Court bench in the Panama Papers case that found Nawaz Sharif guilty and disqualified him. Third, that after retirement Justice Azmat Saeed was appointed by Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan on the board of governors of Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital. On this basis, the opposition advises Justice Azmat Saeed to recuse himself from the position of heading the inquiry committee on the Broadsheet scandal. The government on the other hand, starting with the PM and working its way down the list of usual ministers who speak for the government, insists it has nothing to do with the Broadsheet issue and castigates the opposition for desiring the appointment of a judge expected to favour them since, according to Information Minister Sheikh Rashid, the Broadsheet inquiry will prove a ‘Panamagate 2.0’ for them. No ‘bad’ intention informs the appointment, the government side attempts to clarify. The opposition on the other hand demands an undisputed, non-controversial person to head the inquiry commission, whose proceedings should be made public as the inquiry commissions law carries such a provision. The opposition fears the inquiry may be used to tarnish its image further. Things are at such a pretty pass that the government’s outreach to the opposition to cooperate in the smooth running of parliament and legislation has been turned down by the opposition that has voiced the apprehension that this move is only meant to prevent the opposition from taking the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) government to task on precisely the Broadsheet scandal. True or not, this episode underlines the parlous state of hostility that befogs the political landscape and renders even a seemingly acceptable and rational proposal suspect.

In all this to and fro, thrust and parry between the government and the opposition over the appointment former Justice Azmat Saeed, the Broadsheet scandal itself has been relegated to the back burner. From media reports so far on the conundrum, it appears to be a long and sorry saga of shady deals with a company whose antecedents and competence for the task of tracing illegal assets abroad belonging to Pakistanis can only be considered highly exaggerated, if not blatantly untrue. The agreement with Broadsheet was apparently first signed with a company by that name registered in the US. However, that company soon after went into liquidation. Then an agreement was signed with Kaveh Moussavi’s Broadsheet LLC, incorporated shortly before in the Isle of Man. Strangely, the agreement offered Moussavi a share of undeclared assets discovered by NAB even without any help from Broadsheet. Moussavi himself has a chequered past, including a jail term. Whoever was handling the affair deserves to be hauled over the coals for causing a colossal loss to Pakistan, including the UK arbitration court’s $ 28 million deducted from the Pakistani High Commission in London’s bank account. Moussavi, since the court verdict, has been in the media almost constantly spinning tales of actual or attempted bribery, implicating indirectly thereby the present government. Amidst all this alleged skullduggery, former Justice Azmat Saeed should perhaps recall the long established practice of a judge in whom no-confidence is expressed by any party before him in judicial proceedings to recuse himself from the case. It may therefore, given the controversy that has been aroused by his appointment, be best for his repute as well as the credibility of the inquiry exercise itself for him to recuse himself from these proceedings.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021