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While PMLN govt. ministers, lead by Interior Minister, Ahsan Iqbal, are busy fuming against the Rangers for not letting ministers in to the court room on Oct 2, prominent TV Anchor & blogger, Dr. Moeed Pirzada of Dunya News, has demanded, in a video blog, that the Islamabad’s Accountability court’s hearing on 9th October, in which the ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is being formally charged (indicted) for corruption, should be telecast live by Pakistan’s three major TV channels Geo, Dunya, and ARY. Their uplink signals can then be downloaded by all other channels to show to their viewers.

Democracy is synonymous with accountability and the latter has to be transparent. While so far no major political party has taken up this demand – but social media is now calling out for this

During the last hearing on October 2, a tumult erupted outside the court and on the national media, as apparently Ahsan Iqbal – interior minister- and several other ministers, along with media people were not allowed entry into court. This issue has been raised by the Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, State Minister for Interior Talal Chaudhry, and others who have come on media to protest and demand investigations against the Rangers’s very presence outside the court – when according to them it was not requested by Islamabad Capital territory. Even PM, Khakkan Abbassi is reported to have commented on this incident.

Read more: Corruption in the guise of development funds: Any accountability?

GVS has spoken to official sources familiar with the situation, who have told off the record, on condition of strict anonymity, that Ahsan Iqbal never wanted to go inside the court. He was called by the ministers and media persons who did not have “entry passes” and Ahsan Iqbal got infuriated when Rangers soldiers did not let those people in, despite his insistence.

Its obvious that PMLN govt. wants to see or project the whole incident as a Civil-Military Conflict and a challenge to “Civilian Supremacy” an issue that resonates in Washington and London. Few in media bothered to obtain Ranger’s point of view. Finally DG ISPR, Pakistan Army’s official spokesperson, in his briefing on national security issues, on Oct 5, clarified that Rangers were formally requisitioned by Police; on court’s insistence only those persons were allowed inside who held properly issued “passes” and when Ministers appeared in the morning of Oct 2, without the “entry passes”, the Rangers soldiers posted outside were not in a position to grant entry. DG clarified that all disciplined forces work this way – adhering strictly to the orders issued earlier.

DG ISPR, Pakistan Army’s official spokesperson, in his briefing on national security issues, on Oct 5, clarified that Rangers were formally requisitioned by Police; on court’s insistence only those persons were allowed inside who held properly issued “passes” and when Ministers appeared in the morning of Oct 2, without the “entry passes”, the Rangers soldiers posted outside were not in a position to grant entry.

GVS has spoken to official sources familiar with the situation, who have told off the record, on condition of strict anonymity, that Ahsan Iqbal never wanted to go inside the court. He was called by the ministers and media persons who did not have “entry passes” and Ahsan Iqbal got infuriated when Rangers soldiers did not let those people in, despite his insistence. He demanded to see the Brigadier In-charge, waited for few minutes and then went on holding a press briefing to media outside the court. Ahsan, according to sources GVS spoke, acted like a man whose ego – as Interior Minister – was grievously hurt. PMLN later tried turning the whole issue into a challenge to Civilian supremacy because this sells well with the international media. It also helps to divert public attention from the real issue. Apparently, in a strange political twist, even Chief Minister Punjab,  Shahbaz Sharif, has condemned all those ministers – clearly implying Ahsan Iqbal – who have turned the Ranger’s issue into a huge controversy.

In media debate of Rangers vs Ahsan Iqbal, civil versus military divide, the real issue – serious corruption charges against ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as per Supreme Court orders of 28th July – related to 16 companies (including FZE Capital, Hill Metal Establishment) under reference have disappeared into thin air. Despite making two appearances, in the court, Nawaz Sharif has still not been indicted. He left for London, on Oct 5, and its not clear, as of now, if he is coming back on Oct 9, to appear in the court.

Apparently, in a strange political twist, even Chief Minister Punjab,  Shahbaz Sharif, has condemned all those ministers – clearly implying Ahsan Iqbal – who have turned the Ranger’s issue into a huge controversy. 

On first appearance on Oct 26, Nawaz left after five minutes telling the judge of his wife’s illness. During this first appearance, charged crowds assembled outside the court, raised fiery slogans, several of his supporters barged inside the court room and created a raucous. Judge of the Accountability Court, Mohammad Bashir, was visibly terrified. He demanded security and ordered  an “In-Camera Hearing”. Given the context that PMLN crowds, in Dec 1997, had actually ransacked the Supreme Court – forcing judges to run for their lives – during Nawaz Sharif’s contempt proceedings, his fears have a background.

In this peculiar background of Pakistani power politics, popular Anchor Moeed Pirzada’s demand for live transmission of proceedings through private TV channel like Dunya, Geo and ARY becomes important

On second hearing, on Oct 2, sons,  daughter and son in law of Nawaz – co-accued in these corruption cases – again did not turn up in the court, on the plea that Kulsum Nawaz is sick in London. Under Pakistani law, an accused cannot be indicted unless all co-accused are present in the court to hear the charges framed against them. Nawaz’s lawyers strategy appears to be that keep delaying the appearances, so that court either splits the case into several cases and hear them separately or conducts “trial in absentia”. In both these options, the decision of the court will either be impossible on technical grounds or would remain weak, and can be challenged later in conducive political atmosphere that creates space for a deal – something that defines the norm in Pakistani law and politics.

It will ensure that both sides are treated equally and fairly and the country will hear for themselves what is being said – rather than hearing rival versions through rival factions in the media

Nawaz Sharif’s party, PMLN controls government in both center and largest province, Punjab. With re-election of Nawaz as party head, on Oct 2, after some of the most controversial amendments in Pakistan’s constitution and Party’s own constitution, and cleverly igniting a furious debate on ‘Civilian Supremacy” the government team supporting Nawaz Sharif and sections of the media have apparently turned the tables, and have put on trial the Rangers, Prosecution, Judiciary, and Judge and the whole opposition, with no discussion of the actual corruption case against Nawaz Sharif.

With the bulldozing of the “Amended Election Act 2017” through parliament and the Islamabad convention center rally held earlier this week, ex-PM Nawaz, has successfully portrayed to all, inside the PMLN, that he still holds total power and is the defacto Prime minister of Pakistan.

Live transmission by Geo, Dunya and ARY, on Oct 9, with sharing of their uplink frequency with other channels will address concerns of all sides.  It will address the concerns of PMLN and will assuage the fears of opposition that the government was not able to pressurize the Judge

This is exactly what his group of supporters had advised him when they met him in London. In doing so he has also reasserted his authority – for now – over budding rival power centers in the PML-N. Nawaz Sharif has conveyed to the state’s civil administration, bureaucrats, police, Judges and others, that he is still in control of the government. In this light, the judges will also remember the infamous storming of the Pakistan’s Supreme Court that happened in 1997 by PML-N supporters.

Read more: Corruption: From Panama leaks to PSL?

This is exactly why his group of supporters, had advised him when they met him in London. In doing so he has also reasserted his authority – for now – over budding rival power centers in the PML-N

In this peculiar background of Pakistani power politics, popular Anchor Moeed Pirzada’s demand for live transmission of proceedings through private TV channel like Dunya, Geo and ARY becomes important. His video blog has gone viral on Whats App and Social Media  platforms – and has got hundreds of comments. Almost 99% of those commenting support such transparency of the corruption case hearings.

Moeed Pirzada, contacted by GVS team, argues that both sides need to be assured that court process is fair and transparent and is as per the established practices of law. While presence of media reporters, inside the court room helps, it still remains partisan with different newspapers and TV reporters giving their own versions outside the court. Country’s media is split, is heavily penetrated by rival political and economic interests and public are denied the real picture of any political development.

Dr. Pirzada argues that while PMLN supporters are worried and are accusing that court and judiciary are treating Nawaz unfairly, the other side – PTI, PPP, JI, PMLQ, AML, PAT and other political factions and media commentators – fears that under pressure from Central and Punjab governments and administrations under them NAB and Accountability Court are not being allowed to  perform their function. And space is being created for undue delays, diversions, and finally a political settlement outside the court.

Pirzada argues that a live transmission will ensure that both sides are treated equally and fairly and the whole nation will hear for itself what is being said – rather than hearing rival versions through rival factions in the media. GVS asked Dr. Moeed Pirzada, whether PTV, the state broadcaster could not perform this function instead of private satellite channels. He said unfortunately not. PTV in its reality, though state broadcaster in theory, is a government controlled channel. It often cuts out and censors opposition speeches while showing parliamentary proceedings – while maintaining total monopoly on the coverage of parliament, thus denying public to know what really happened in the parliament.

Read more: Ahsan Iqbal-Rangers spat: Does it depict a civil-military tussle?

Live transmission by Geo, Dunya and ARY, on Oct 9, with sharing of their uplink frequency with other channels will address concerns of all sides.  It will address the concerns of PMLN and will assuage the fears of opposition that the government was not able to pressurize the Judge. Democracy is synonymous with accountability and the latter has to be transparent. While so far no major political party has taken up this demand – but social media, that reflects the voice of Pakistani educated middle classes, is now abuzz with this discussion.

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