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Thursday, February 15, 2024

Why PM Imran Khan did not accept Gen. Asim Bajwa’s resignation?

Prime Minister Imran Khan refused accepting Gen. Asim Bajwa’s resignation. Many in the opposition think that Gen. Bajwa was GHG's choice but GVS learns that this is not true. PM Khan checked everything before throwing his weight behind Gen. Bajwa. Why Imran Khan made this unusual decision? Read GVS detailed News Analysis.

PM Imran Khan did not accept the resignation of Lt Gen (retd) Asim Saleem Bajwa, Chairman China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The premier has conveyed to Bajwa to stay in his position and carry on his work. The primer also made it clear that “I am satisfied with Asim Bajwa’s rebuttal performance and the explanation he has just offered”. PM’s move has been hailed by the prominent analysts as an intelligent decision.

As expected this decision, of not accepting Asim Bajwa’s resignation, has not gone well with country’s opposition and the parts of media that either support the opposition parties or are considered anti-establishment, pro-west or pro-India. Many had hoped that Ahmed Noorani’s blog story from an unknown site will lead to Gen. Bajwa’s exit from both positions (CPEC Authority and SAPM on Information).

Ex-PM Nawaz Sharif’s daughter and PMLN Vice President, Maryam Nawaz had also taken a strong position on the issue. Once Gen. Bajwa announced his resignation from the position of SAPM, they demanded that Asim Bajwa’s resignation as SAPM is meaningless, real resignation should be from CPEC Authority and expected Gen. Bajwa to fall through a slippery path.


Why Imran Khan has not accepted Gen. Bajwa’s resignation?

So given PM Imran Khan’s strong position on accountability and his decision not to bail out any cabinet member or close associate facing actuations, question naturally arises why he has taken the unusual step to force Asim Bajwa to retract his resignation?

One thing is obvious, Ahmad Noorani’ story had many holes; he had assembled different disparate pieces of information to imply that businesses run by Gen. Bajwa’s bothers and family in the United States were dependent on Gen. Bajwa stealing public funds from Pakistan during his military career from being a Colonel – who worked in Presidency under Musharraf- to his current position as Chairman CPEC Authority.

This created enough hype, most in Pakistan never read stories critically and given so many partisan voices on Twitter the weaknesses of Noorani story were conveniently overlooked in the hopes of creating a scandal against Imran Khan government and the country’s establishment. However, once Gen. Bajwa gave his 4 page explanation on Twitter assumptions on which Noorani had structured his apparently powerful narrative collapsed. And PM’s office was reading everything.


But this may not be the whole explanation. Before this episode PM Imran Khan had only persuaded Dr. Amir Liaqat Hussain, PTI leader from Karachi, to take his resignation back. He did not intervene in case of Aleem Khan, Jehangir Tareen, Tania Aidrus, Kiyani and so many others, then what was different?

Opposition media claimed that PM was afraid of the powerful military establishment. But GVS has credibly learnt, from sources in Islamabad, that Gen. Bajwa was not heading CPEC Authority on recommendation of GHQ; he was PM’s own choice on the basis of strong recommendations from his team, his personal feedback on Bajwa’s understanding on issues of CPEC because of his work on CPEC development projects in Baluchistan where he headed the Southern Command (based in Quetta) after moving from ISPR and he had earned the trust of Chinese govt.


Chinese trusted Gen. Bajwa
Bajwa, in his position as Head Southern Command, had also earned the trust of Chinese government. Over the past two years, international and local media had together created lots of misgivings about the future of CPEC that concerned Beijing. CPEC Authority was created to restore speed and thus trust in CPEC projects – and it was natural to pick up someone who is trusted and considered competent by all stakeholders.

On Thursday, Asim Bajwa, during his appearance on TV shows, had announced that he would resign as Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on “Information and Broadcasting”, but would continue as chairman of CPEC Authority. “I want to focus fully on CPEC projects,” he said in television interviews Thursday night, “CPEC projects are the country’s future,” he added. He had appeared on live TV shows on ARY (with Anchor person, Kashif Abbasi and Arshad Sharif) and later on Geo News (with Shahzeb Khanzada)

SAPM Gen. Asim Bajwa had said he would submit his resignation to Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday. “I hope the prime minister will allow me to dedicate my full attention to CPEC projects.”

Gen Bajwa’s explanation debunked Noorani’s theory

Earlier, Gen (r). Asim Saleem Bajwa had issued a detailed 4 page clarification, meticulously prepared by his lawyers and accountants, in response to Ahmed Noorani’s blog published from an unknown website – somewhere in the United States.

Bajwa’s clarification effectively debunked Noorani’s main thesis that “rise of his family business in the United States was somehow tied with the rise of his military career in Pakistan”.

The additional facts that Noorani was always controversial in Pakistan, was mysteriously thrashed in Islamabad, several months ago, by unknown people (allegedly connected with government agencies – as per unwritten rumour mills) that he was living in self-exile in the United States for past several months without any clear understanding of how he supports and finances himself and that the allegations were first raised by Maj. (r) Gaurav a junior co-host with Arnab Goswami of Republic TV in India all raised serious questions about the nature and origin of allegations and real intention behind the Noorani’s blog.

Many in Islamabad were thus mulling over the question: was the real target CPEC, a multi-billion dollar project financed and led by China, or Bajwa?

Gen. Bajwa’s explanation may not have answered every thing – and it certainly gave rise to new questions. As soon as he gave his explanation TV Anchors, politicians and twitter activists demanded money trail as to how he saved his $19,000, how funds were transferred to the United States.

Others shouted how come the wife of a serving officer became business partner of companies abroad, why Bajwa’s sons had so many dormant companies in their names and why his wife disinvested from foreign companies just in June 2020 and not before and so on. There were many more questions. But his explanation had poked serious holes in Noorani’s original thesis and provided enough material to many prominent voices in the media to rally behind him.

Gen. Bajwa had been smart. He not only issued a clarification on his Twitter handle – meticulously prepared by lawyers – but boldly appeared on some private TV shows to explain the details of his family’s business. He calmly and politely answered all the questions raised by prominent Pakistani journalists like Kashif Abbasi, Arshad Sharif and Shahzeb Khanzada.

At times TV anchors were rough and asked bizarre questions; but Bajwa was able to come up with counter-questions for instance to a demand to provide money trails to media he asked how much information media persons have divulged about their assets to the public.

Why Bajwa’s explanation debunked Noorani’s theory? 

Bajwa’s explanation helped clear the misperceptions that were created in Pakistani media. Some of the key takeaways that were absorbed in public minds from his own explanation and the debate that followed on social media were:

First, the US based businesses did not belong to Bajwa and his wife was only one of the shareholders among many. It also became clear that his brothers and their business partners were US citizens or residents and had live there long enough to have credit worthiness and that businesses were operating under the scrutiny of US regulators, banks other financial institutions that had been extending them credit continuously since 2002.

Second, it become clear to most in the government that Bajwa family share in “Papa Johns” was not a financial empire – the impression Noorani created through his blog and his tweets pointing towards 99 companies, 130 franchises, 13 commercial properties – but a small modest scale business that is running merely 27 stores or delivery shops in an American franchise chain (Papa Johns, fourth largest Pizza Franchise in the US, founded in 1980’s, trades on NASDAQ, and runs almost 5400 delivery stores across United States)


It also became clear – especially to those who had lived or worked in the west that “Papa Johns” does not own what qualifies as “sit in restaurants” in the United States but merely shops or stores where customers walk in for pizza delivery or make phone orders. And only 27 such delivery points or shops belong to Asim Bajwa’s brothers and partners. So what was being defined as “chain of companies” – and thus a huge business empire – was merely a small share in a chain of pizza delivery stores.

Third, Bajwa family share in Papa John’s franchise had grown up after 9/11 with strict financial regulations developing across the United States – especially for Muslim and Pakistani owned businesses. Many wondered if there had been serious discrepancies in financial matters of companies created by Bajwa family – which Noorani’s blog implied – would the American banks and financial institutions and the Papa John’s franchise itself would have continued to extend loans and credit lines?

Read More: CPEC & the Greater Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)

The principal accusation levelled against Bajwa was a correlation between his rise in the military career in Pakistan and the the rise of his family’s business in the United States; Noorani had put it like this:

“The growth of the Bajwa family’s business empire in the United States and later in Pakistan directly matches the rise in power of retired general Asim Saleem Bajwa, who is now chairman of the country’s massive China-financed infrastructure project and a special assistant to the prime minister,” the blog, Fact Focus, had argued.

Understandably explanations given by Gen. Bajwa created new questions some of these are still being debated on twitter even after the PM’s support and intervention but Bajwa was able to break the momentum. What helped Gen. Bajwa to break the initial impressions created by Ahmed Noorani were his assertions about the size and scope of his brother’s businesses and the limited role of his wife.

The CPEC Authority chairman asserted that from 2002 to June 1 this year (18 years), the total out-of-pocket investment made by his wife in the companies of his brothers in the US had been $19,492. “This investment was made by my wife through my savings spread over a period of eighteen years, all of which are fully accounted for. Not once the rules or regulations prescribed by the State Bank of Pakistan were violated.”

The SAPM then clarified his position on the “alleged investment of businesses” of his brothers in the Papa John’s pizza chain in the US and DQ and the UAE. “The story asserts that Bajco Global Management, LLC is the parent company of all Bajco-related businesses,” he noted.

Read More: CPEC: The real danger is US’s policies

“This is far from the truth as Bajco Global Management, LLC is not the parent of any company and is only a management company that provides management services to all Bajco-related businesses on a fee basis,” he added. “Bajco Global Management, LLC does not have any ownership interest in any Papa John’s in the USA, DQ, UAE or any real estate.”

“In a span of eighteen years i.e. from 2002 till date my brothers purchased the franchise and assets related thereto and real estate to the tune of $70 million, out of which around $60 million were through bank loans and financial facilities.”

The SAPM said over a period of 18 years, the actual out-of-pocket cash investment into these businesses by his brothers and wife had been about $73,950. “It is further pointed out that out of $73,950, my wife’s contribution, as stated aforesaid, was $19,492. Thus, the total out-of-pocket cash contribution of my five brothers, over a period of eighteen years, has been $54,458.”

Read More: CPEC: Potential Impact on Pakistan’s Logistics Industry

Gen. Asim added that the cash contribution of $54,458 by his five brothers was fully accounted for and related to their own resources. Fact that his bothers (two of whom happen to be US based physicians) and their business partners are US taxpayers helped create credibility in his assertions.

Who finances Noorani in the US became a question too

Apart from the fact that Noorani’s allegations were similar to the ones raised by Maj. Gaurav Arya in India; someone considered close to Indian establishment – how Noorani lives in the United States for past several months also became a public argument. Prominent blogger, Maleeha Hashmi raised the tricky question:

Maj. Gaurav Arya and Republic TV, when viewed from Islamabad, were not only considered close to Indian establishment but these were also known for propaganda against the CPEC. Gaurav had recently claimed that the entire venture is a failure. He also claimed that the Chinese are seeking a way out of this agreement.

All of that turn around happened within the scope of literally 72 hours. PM Imran Khan who had forced all his SAPMS to declare their assets only a few weeks ago carefully watched all that drama around Asim Bajwa resignation unfold from his vantage point. By the time, he forced Chairman CPEC to take his resignation back, he had understood the nuts and bolts of this drama. He knew that accepting Asim Bajwa resignation, even from the position of SAPM, at this stage would be an unnecessary act of weakness and will be unwise as it will open a slippery path towards eroding the moral authority of newly created CPEC Authority. PM did not want to fall in the trap to oblige those elements who had unleashed this drama.

Farah Adeed researched and finalised with the help of additional input from GVS News Desk.