City Notes

He visited Pakistan this month, was given an award by the President of Pakistan, and was suspected of involvement in murder at home. No, not Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, but Sri Lankan Chief of Defence Staff Adm Ravindra Wijegunaratne, who had been in the country a little earlier, between 12 and 16 February, just ahead of the Crown Prince’s visit on February 17 and 18. Apart from attending the Aman-2019 45-country exercise hosted by the Pakistan Navy and receiving the Nishan-i-Imtiaz (Military) from the President, Admiral Wijegunaratne also called on the Defence Minister and the service chiefs during his visit.

He went back to Sri Lanka to resume his duties, which he can do because he is on bail. Not on a murder charge, but on a charge of helping a murder accused get away. Back in 2008-9, when he was a Rear Admiral, in the midst of the confusion and strife of the Sri Lankan civil war, 11 young Tamils were abducted and then killed, allegedly by Sri Lankan Navy personnel. The Admiral is not accused of the actual murders, but the intelligence officer Lt Cdr Chandana Prasad Hettiarachchi is. The Admiral is supposed to have helped Commander Hettiarachchi get away when police tried to arrest him. That’s why he is on bail. One of the reasons why the kidnappings and killings are so scandalous is that the victims were not Tamil fighters, but were up for ransom. There is a faint miasma of corruption over the whole affair, and if Admiral Wijegunaratne was not the government’s guest, the PTI would have proclaimed that he was definitely guilty. Remember, while still a lieutenant commander, he raised both the Special Boat Squadron and the Marines, which were the spearheads of the Navy’s role in the civil war, in which the Admiral participated, as indeed did every member of the Sri Lankan armed forces. True, the Admiral is not accused of having ordered the killings, and in that respect, he is one-up on anyone suspected of ordering the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Of course, the Admiral does not have to face NAB. On the other hand, Sindh Assembly Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani did. And got arrested. He was accused of many offences, basically spending beyond his known sources of income. While most of the allegations are to do with his time as a Sindh Minister, as Speaker, some of the appointments he made have been called into question. He must be wondering whether his uncle, Agha Badruddin (Sindh Speaker 1949-1951) or father Agha Sadruddin (Sindh Speaker March-July 1977) ever faced such a dilemma.

It should be noticed that while he is obviously guilty (having been accused), he could have saved himself if he had simply joined the PTI. It should be noted that the previous and present Speakers of the Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa Assembly, have been censured by the KP Services Tribunal for having favoured Nasrullah for the Secretaryship of the Assembly, rather than Kifayatullah. The tribunal said their actions had shown nepotism and favouritism. As they are PTI men, it seems the accusation-as-guilt rule doesn’t apply to them. But Speaker Durrani, being a PPP man, will get it in the neck. The PML(Q)’s Ch Pervez Elahi, the Punjab Speaker was worried because he too is being questioned by NAB, which is these days a prelude to arrest, but then, his party supports the PTI, which is better than actually being in the PTI, which didn’t save Aleem Khan from arrest. Being questioned by NAB is dangerous, as Imran Khan himself has to undergo a grilling about the use of helicopters by NAB Peshawar.

There was even some speculation about who would issue the Speaker’s production order if he was arrested. The Deputy Speaker would take over as Acting Speaker, as he does when the Speaker goes abroad or is acting Governor, and should issue the production order. The idea behind production orders is that, while the member might have been a bad boy, his constituency should not be made to suffer, but should have its elected member in the House. Ch Pervez normally would not have to worry, but he knows that NAB does not go after the guilty, but only the bad people. Like Mian Shehbaz Sharif.

I don’t know how we manage all of this. There has been a war scare with India, in which they are trying to convert the Pulwama attack into a casus belli. It’s almost as if they wanted to spoil Crown Prince Muhammad’s visit to Pakistan, but they’ve managed to make it compete with his visit to India. Yes, the one in which he showed his devotion to the Kashmir cause by calling Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi his ‘elder brother’. Saudi Arabia wants to sell its oil to China through Gwadar, and to India too, directly. The Crown Prince will only call Imran his elder brother when he (the Crown Prince) has mastered the mysteries of reverse swing.

By the way, the weather is wintry, raining a lot and now turning cold. Is it because of the melting icecap? Or is that just part of the Chinese conspiracy Donald Trump says global warming is?