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Pettition against Singapore firm and Pakistan judicial coup
(To be read in continuation of my earlier articles titled “PAK CHIEF JUSTICE: IN THE LINE OF FIRE” at http://www.saag.org/papers22/paper2162.html and “GWADAR: BALOCHS BLAST DEAL WITH SINGAPORE COMPANY” at http://www.saag.org/papers22/paper2127.html)
1. Well-informed sources in the Pakistani Police do not take seriously the speculation by the opposition political parties that the abrupt suspension of Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, the Chief Justice of Pakistan’s Supreme Court, by General Pervez Musharraf on March 9, 2007, and the initiation of dismissal proceedings against him were meant to ensure that the suspended Chief Justice, who was perceived by the Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) as unco-operative, would not come in the way of Musharraf’s alleged plans to get himself re-elected as the President by the present Parliament and State Assemblies without waiting for new elections due later this year.
2. These sources argue that while this might be the long-term objective of Musharraf, to achieve this he could have adopted more subtle and sophisticated ways of having him eased out of the judiciary. Musharraf still had time to achieve this. According to them, the abrupt and uncouth action of Musharraf evident from the manner in which he had the Chief Justice suspended and placed under house arrest was a panic action. This panic action was triggered off by Justice Chaudhury’s plans to expand his on-going enquiries into public complaints of a large number of missing persons to cover the alleged payments by the US’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to the ISI and its officers. They say that the Chief Justice wanted to see whether there was any link between these payments and the large number of complaints of missing persons.
3. They add that the panic action of Musharraf was also triggered off by the refusal of the suspended Chief Justice of a request from Musharraf not to take up for enquiry a public interest petition from a lawyer making certain allegations against the manner in which the Government recently awarded the long-term lease of the new commercial port at Gwadar in Balochistan to the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) International. This port has been constructed by the Chinese and is due to be commissioned by Musharraf later this month.
4. The petition against the award of the Gwadar lease to the PSA has been filed by the Watan Party (Party of the Nation) through lawyer Zafarullah Khan. It is the same party, which had filed a petition last year, against the manner in which Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz had privatised the Government-owned Pakistan Steel Mills. After holding an enquiry into that petition, the suspended Chief Justice had passed severe strictures against the Musharraf regime.
5. The petition against the award of the Gwadar lease to the PSA reportedly makes the following allegations:
· The lease was awarded to the PSA without examining the national security implications of awarding the lease to a company of a country, which has close relations with the US. It draws attention to the debate in the US Congress last year on the national security implications of awarding a contract to a Dubai-controlled company for the management of certain ports in the US.
· Senior officials, who expressed their reservations over the award of the lease to the PSA, were removed from their posts by Musharraf. The former Director-General of Port and Shipping was transferred out of his post by Musharraf because he opposed the award of the lease to the PSA.
· The lease was awarded to the PSA under pressure from some Chinese banks, which had lent money to the Government of Pakistan for the construction of the commercial port.
· The PSA has been exempted from the payment of all taxes for 20 years. This is an extraordinary exemption, the like of which had never been given to any other company–Pakistani or foreign.
· The whole bidding was carried out secretly with no transparency. The petition appeals to the court to order the Government to make public all documents relating to the lease and to stay the operationalisation of this lease till the court has completed its enquiries.
6. In addition to the allegations made in the petition, Baloch nationalists have also been alleging that former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was overthrown by the Thai Army in a coup in September last year, had influenced the decision-making and persuaded Shaukat Aziz to award the lease to the PSA. Shinawatra is a close personal friend of Shaukat Aziz. He had known him from the days Aziz was working for the CITIBANK in the Gulf. The Baloch nationalists allege that the PSA paid commissions to Aziz and senior officials in order to get itself exempted from payment of all taxes for 20 years.
7. The petition against the award of the lease to the PSA was filed in the Supreme Court on February 14, 2007, but it has not yet been taken up for enquiry by Justice Chaudhury. On February 17, 2007, Naeem Bokhari, a lawyer and a TV analyst, who is often used by the ISI to discredit anti-Musharraf personalities, wrote an open letter to Justice Chaudhury accusing him of influencing the recruitment of his son as a police officer and of being rude to lawyers. The Punjab Bar Council, of which he is a member, dissociated itself from the allegations made by Bokhari and cancelled his licence to practise as a lawyer.
8. The police sources say that Musharraf apprehended that the suspended Chief Justice was about to issue an order staying the management of the Gwadar port by the PSA till the allegations made in the petition had been enquired into by the court to establish the truth. This might have come in the way of Musharraf commissioning the port later this month.
The writer is Additional Secretary (retired), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: [email protected]