Islamabad – Sources close to the Prime Minister Imran Khan has revealed that PM is displeased and puzzled due to the sudden arrest of Mir Shakilur Rehman, part-owner of Jang-GEO group.
This feeling runs deep inside Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf cabinet. A key cabinet member admitted, on strict confidentiality, while talking off the record with media persons. Minister said that a meeting between the government and All Pakistan Newspaper Society (APNS) was scheduled for Monday, March 16. The purpose of the meeting was to reduce the tensions between media owners and the government.
Some of the key cabinet members had worked very hard in arranging this meeting. However, now with the arrest of Mir Shakil ur Rehman this atmosphere between the media and the government has been totally vitiated – with key media persons, columnists and commentators blaming PM Imran Khan for attacking media.
Prime Minister, Imran Khan cant tolerate voice of dissent. He has recently expressed his displeasure aganist Jang/Geo and daily Dawn. Arrest of Mir Shakeel ur Rehman is the first step. Dawn can be the next.
— Mazhar Abbas (@MazharAbbasGEO) March 12, 2020
Key cabinet members also reveal that the Prime Minister, in his cabinet meetings, has been often expressing his concerns on the performance of National Accountability (NAB), its untimely actions and its sense of direction. PM Khan’s disappointment, shared by his cabinet members, is also based on the fact that NAB is picking up weak cases, and it has failed to achieve any convictions in courts of law.
PTI cabinet members believe that NAB, for some reason, often picks up weakest of the cases against politically influential suspects even when there could be potentially strong cases against them. NAB has failed to prove any charges or maintain cases in Higher Courts against any important political personality – ministers believe. The only outcome of NAB’s actions so far has been to turn corrupt politicians into victims or worst: heroes. If NAB has ever recovered fines and penalties then these are in few cases related to businessmen or ex-civil servants only. PTI government has been clueless and worried about NAB’s selection and prosecution of the cases – minister adds.
PTI ministers admit that the government has taken flak from the media and the opposition on cases made by NAB. There has been an internal debate to distance PTI from the NAB however it could not happen for political considerations. PTI support base, its youth brigade are very passionate about party’s anti-corruption slogans and Khan’s repeated commitments that he will not back off, will not give NRO to anyone. Therefore criticising NAB or distancing government from NAB’s actions was found politically difficult.
Why Mir Shakil ur Rehman’s arrest has created such reactions?
Mir Shakilur rehman is the most influential media tycoon in Pakistan. He is entrenched both in the print and electronic media. He is often referred as Rupert Murdoch of Pakistan. He is part-owner of Jang and Geo group, biggest media group in Pakistan. He is owner of and editor-in-chief of Jang, largest Urdu publication and The News, one of the largest English newspaper. He is part owner of IMC (Independent Media Corporation) that runs GEO, the most influential television channel in Pakistan.
Today, on March 13, NAB got physical remand of Mir Shakilur Rehman from accountability court till 25th March.
Mir Shakilur Rehman is arrested in a case that alleges him of acquiring allotment of 54 plots that were consolidated into one large landholding where he built his house in Block H, Jahur Town, Phase: II, Lahore. NAB alleges that such a large number of plots could not have been allotted to one or person or purchased by one person and could not be clubbed, according to rules and regulations. NAB alleges that there were serious irregularities in the transaction. Even if some exceptions were granted by then CM Punjab, those were illegal. The transaction took place, in 1986, during Gen Zia term when Chief Minister of Punjab was Nawaz Sharif and Prime Minister was Mohammad Khan Junejo.
However, the statement from Jang group on behalf of Mir Shakilur Rehman said that he was given a notice on 28th February for inquiry at NAB Lahore on 5th of March. He presented himself before the NAB and he was cooperative. Jang Group insists that has the documentary evidence of the transaction and he has purchased the plots from a private person.
However, NAB spokesperson said that Mir Shakil ur Rehman had failed to provide documentary evidence and it was feared that Mr. Rehman might leave the country and become unavailable to the NAB for further investigations.
In previous cases, Islamabad High Court Justice Athar Minallah has strongly criticised NAB for arresting people who are cooperating. It is being believed that NAB will find it difficult to defend this case in the courts.
PTI Govt is being blamed for the arrest of media tycoon
There is a history of difficult relations between the PTI govt and the Jang/Geo group. Both have been strongly critical of each other. During 2013 elections, the criticism of GEO on PTI led to the boycott of Geo TV by PTI. Since the formation of new government Jang/Geo have emerged as vocal critics of the government. After Mir’s arrest media group broadcasts are blaming the government for that – pointing out that Geo’s position has been reversed backwards on cable networks.
But contrary to this media perception, Prime Minister Imran Khan is puzzled and displeased on the arrest of Shakilur Rehman. Cabinet members of PM Khan believe that National Accountability Bureau (NAB) is creating troubles for his government and its media relations.
HRCP is deeply concerned at the arrest of Mir Shakil ur Rehman, Editor-in-Chief of the #Jang/Geo group by NAB, on a 34-year-old property-related matter. There remains a strong suspicion that such actions by NAB are selective, arbitrary and politically motivated. 1/2
— Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (@HRCP87) March 12, 2020
The entire media community has criticised the NAB’s action and is hitting at the government – except for two media groups. One of the channels that has been rejoicing Rehman’s arrest is Bol. Owner of Bol, Shoaib Sheikh, was arrested in 2015 during Nawaz Sharif’s government. Interior minister, Ch.Nisar had cited a New York Times story alleging fake degree scam against Axact for the government action. Sheikh remained in prison for several weeks. Many in the media believe that Mir Shakilur Rehman was allegedly the driving force behind the arrest of Bol founder Mr. Shoaib Ahmad Shiekh. Jang/Geo had then prominently covered his arrest and Sheikh had often been vocal against Geo. But apart from these impressions there is no proof that Mir Shakil ur Rehman had anything to do with Sheikh’s arrest.