ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has landed in prison for the second time in his over three decade long political career he started after the death of his politician father in 1988 in Ojeri ammunition depot explosions.
With Abbasi’s detention another ex-prime minister has gone to jail with Nawaz Sharif already being in prison after having been convicted by an accountability court in a reference. Similarly, one former president, Asif Zardari, is also behind bars, being on judicial remand. Besides, two ex-premiers – Yusuf Raza Gilani, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf – are facing proceeding in accountability courts. Three ex-premiers, including Mir Zafarullah Jamali, are though also alive, but they fall in category of “lucky ones” who held this top office under Musharraf rule, which remains out of NAB’s focus.
This time, Abbasi, who enjoys remarkable reputation and integrity, has been arrested by the NAB in the LNG deal with Qatar that he had signed as the petroleum minister. Previously, he was apprehended in the so-called plane hijacking case as Gen Musharraf had imposed martial law on Oct 12, 1999, overthrowing the Nawaz Sharif government. He had then remained in jail for two years and walked out of it after over two years following his acquittal.
Since the signing of this agreement by Abbasi as the petroleum minister with QatargasBoard of Directors Chairman Saad Sherida in Doha in the presence of the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani on February 1, 2016, he repeatedly volunteered to face any investigation in this connection and stated that no bureaucrat who worked with him in negotiating this deal should not be questioned as he was solely responsible for it.
After clinching the agreement, Abbasi, who later served as the prime minister from August 2017 to May 2018 in the wake of Supreme Court sanctioned disqualification of Nawaz Sharif , had written a letter to the NAB to look into it following questions raised by his political opponents. The Karachi chapter of the anti-graft watchdog had probed it and given a clean chit.
On February 12, 2018, the Supreme Court dismissed a plea of Sheikh Rashid, now minister for railways, seeking Abbasi’s disqualification for embezzlement in the LNG deal. He had alleged that Abbasi finalised the LNG agreement with Qatar without observing transparency in bidding. The court had ruled that Article 184(3) was not attracted and the petitioner may file a complaint with the NAB. Before and after coming into government, senior Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leaders, including Imran Khan repeatedly declared that the LNG deal would be made public to “expose corruption”, but it was never done. At one stage, Qatar sternly cautioned Pakistan not to do so, otherwise, it would jeopardize the agreement.
At least three major power plants, established by the previous government in Punjab at Haveli Bahadur Shah, Balloki and Bhikki, which are producing 3,600 megawatts of electricity, are being run on LNG imported from Qatar as a result of this deal and are saving a lot foreign exchange by cutting down import of Furnas oil. The government plans to privatise two of them, Haveli Bahadur Shah and Balloki, and expects to get around $2.7 billion as the sale proceeds. According to a Bloomberg report, Pakistan saved more than $600 million over the first 10 years of the agreement by pitting some of the world’s biggest sellers against each other.
After winning the 1997 general elections, Abbasi was appointed as the chairman of the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA). In that capacity, he had been arrested after the imposition of martial in 1999 for blocking Musharraf’s plane coming from Sri Lanka to land at the Jinnah International Airport of Karachi. He had remained in jail along with Nawaz Sharif , Shahbaz Sharif and several other PMK-N leaders on the charge of plane hijacking. As Abbasi stated later, he was forced to make a statement against Nawaz Sharif in the hijacking case, but he refused. He was also pressured to switch allegiance from the former prime minister, but to no avail.
Old timers recall that at no stage during his incarceration in Karachi, Abbasi wavered and faced the detention with immense courage and resolution. Even now, he had announced more than once that he would not go for pre-arrest bail in the LNG investigations by the NAB and is ready to be arrested any time. Along with Maryam Nawaz, Abbasi was now among the top hard-hitting leaders of the PML-N, who were taking on its detractors forcefully every day. With Nawaz Sharif being behind bars and Shahbaz Sharif being less active, Abbasi was largely running the PML-N show. During the past few days, he, accompanied by some other senior PML-N leaders, addressed party conventions in different cities and towns, mobilising it. In the recent massive reshuffle of the PML-N, he was made its senior vice president, which enhanced his role in the party in the crisis gripping it.
Over the past few months, Abbasi appeared before the NAB investigators for nearly half a dozen times and answered their questions for hours. At one point, he publicly released the questionnaire, given to him by NAB, dubbing it as ludicrous.