Islamabad  -   Prime Minister Imran Khan on Sunday took notice of the appointment of State Minister Zartaj Gul’s sister to the National Counter Terrorism Authority (Nacta), after it invited a sharp criticism from public and sparked a debate on government claims about meritocracy.

Shabnam Gul, a BPS-18 officer, was serving as assistant professor in the International Relations Department of the Lahore College for Women University (LCWU) and was appointed as director (BPS-19) in Nacta, Islamabad, on deputation for three years.

Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Political Affairs Naeemul Haq in a tweet on Sunday said that prime minister has directed the PTI leader and Minister of State for Climate Change Zartaj Gul to withdraw her letter written to NACTA regarding the appointment of her sister Shabnam Gul.

The Special Assistant said no one in the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government can promote their relatives or friends by using their positions. This was against the ethics of PTI politics which has always opposed nepotism, he added.

Naeem appeared to be referring to a letter dated Feb 27, 2019, written by an individual in Zartaj’s office to Nacta, which cited a telephonic conversation regarding Shabnam Gul’s appointment in Nacta.

When contacted, Nacta initially declined to comment on the authenticity of the letter received. A statement issued later by a spokesperson of the authority said that Zartaj Gul did not write any letter. However, the statement confirmed that a letter attributed to her, which was being discussed in the media, was written by minister’s principal staff officer to the interior secretary.

On Saturday, federal government appointed Shabnam as a director of Nacta while her picture was posted on the authority’s website. The apparently sudden appointment of the LCWU assistant professor as a director of the key counter-terrorism body of the country raised many eyebrows.

The appointment of minister’s sister especially drew ire on social media after it emerged that Shabnam had been disqualified as a researcher by Punjab University in 2007, and that her studentship for an MPhil degree was also cancelled on charges of plagiarism. The complaint  against Shabnam Gul was that she and another researcher of the Department of Kashmir Studies at University Oriental College had plagiarised from a Master’s degree thesis and research paper on Kashmiriyat and political parties of Kashmir by KH Khursheed. They had released a joint plagiarised book titled: Tareekh-i-Kashmir: 1947 to date, in 2006.

A Nacta director said that 12 federal and provincial officers had applied for deputation. He claimed that Shabnam was among the six shortlisted candidates and her appointment was then confirmed by a four-member committee.

State Minister Zartaj Gul took to twitter late Saturday night to tweet a Nacta notification which claimed that Shabnam was appointed as Counterterrorism body’s director on merit. Describing it as a “comprehensive clarification”, she claimed it “blew away the nonsense” being peddled in media regarding “supposed breach of merit”.

“One cannot disenfranchise a deserving candidate just because they happen to be related to a government minister,” she said, without explaining the reason of her principal staff officer’s letter to the interior secretary.

 Nacta notification

Nacta in the notification dated June 1 (Saturday) asserted that it had “followed 100 percent merit and due process” in the requisitioning of the services of Shabnam.

It went on to say that Nacta received 12 requests from employees of different federal and provincial government departments working in BS17-19 for posting in Nacta on deputation basis.

A three-member committee constituted to shortlist the applicants conducted interviews on May 14 and recommended six candidates for sending their cases to the Establishment Division for further processing.

The notification said that Shabnam Gul was one of the selected candidates recommended on merit by the committee as she “is a PhD scholar with several papers on counter-extremism and terrorism, and was found appropriate and relevant for the research wing”.

Rejecting all media reports as baseless, a Natca official asserted that Shabnam’s services were being sought on merit.