Mutiny is defined in the dictionary as ‘an open rebellion against the proper authorities’, while synonymously it is referred to as insurrection, rebellion, revolt, riot, revolution, uprising, rising, coup, coup d’état, putsch, protest, strike etc. We have currently witnessed this unlawfully despicable activity in the ranks of none other than the Punjab bureaucracy, who announced a ‘strike’ in support of a colleague arrested by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), for allegedly acting as the front end of a massive corruption network.
The Chief Executive Officer of the Punjab Thermal Power Ltd and former Director General of the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) was arrested by NAB officials last week, after failing to appear before an investigation team in spite of repeated notices to do so. Mr. Ahad Cheema was charged with illegally allotting land for a much touted housing scheme in Lahore and was warned prior to the arrest that action would be taken against him under NAB Ordinance if he failed to show up before the investigating officers. NAB said that there was sufficient evidence to prove that the arrested bureaucrat was involved in financial malpractices. The investigating authorities added that Mr. Cheema misused authority with criminal intent, awarding a contract of around Rs. 14 billion to a Lahore based company that was ineligible for the project. Reports also said that the former Director General LDA received 32 Kanals of prime urban land, valued at approximately Rs. 30.090 million, as illegal gratification from a company owned by a PML N Federal Minister and having links to the construction company that was given the contract.
Mr. Cheema’s arrest sparked a reaction amongst members of Punjab bureaucracy, who announced that they would go on a strike to protest against the NAB action. It was also reported that a very senior bureaucrat in the Punjab Secretariat called a meeting of his colleagues to motivate and coordinate, what was technically a mutiny. Indications that the strike was in fact machinated by the Punjab government to coerce NAB, obtain the arrested individual’s release and in the long term ensure that no bureaucrat was ever held accountable, appeared to gain strength, when a leading Punjab Minister publicly criticized NAB for overstepping its authority and classifying the act not as ‘mutiny’, but an expression of reservations against the Accountability Bureau.
It was during Mr. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s time that the police had adopted a similar path in support of their demands. The army had been called in to perform traffic control duties and the mutinous policemen had been dealt with promptly with an iron hand. It would be of interest for the readers to know that if such activity occurs within the military, the perpetrators are immediately arrested and punished with penalties, the least of which is dismissal combined with rigorous imprisonment and the severest - death.
Mercifully enough, the current ‘mutiny’ was confined to a few officials or in the words of one of my politically savvy friends - ‘beneficiaries’ of the Punjab government ‘more loyal to the king than the king himself’. That there were bureaucrats, who were loyal to the state and their conscience, became evident when Punjab government offices began functioning as usual on Monday following the ‘strike’ call. It also goes to NAB’s credit that it did not buckle under pressure, but on the contrary went ahead and arrested the CEO of the construction company involved in the scandal.
The nation is now looking at a ridiculous scenario, where a group of public servants are ‘striking’ against a Federal institution, while a provincial government belonging to the same party as the one ruling in the center, is abetting this unlawful course of action. The question now being raised is, whether these abettors should be held as accessories to the crime and will all parties involved in challenging the writ of the state be arrested, tried and punished. In view of the ongoing judicial and NAB activism, there is hope that we may yet see this happen.
n The writer is a freelance columnist.