ISLAMABAD: An allegedly fake document circulating in Pakistani media accusing 37 parliamentarians from country’s ruling party – Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN) – linked to sectarian and terrorist outfits, caused a political outrage hinting towards a proxy war between civilian and military intelligence agencies, analysts believe.

The list of these more than three-dozen senior parliamentarians was leaked in a talk show hosted by a journalist with his nuisance value for having good sources in military establishment in the recent past. The journalist attributed this list to the top civilian secret agency – Intelligence Bureau (IB) – on the directions of recently ousted prime minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, who also heads the ruling party. However, the sitting PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi categorically denied this list or any such directions to the IB for intelligence gathering regarding the alleged links of these ruling parliamentarians with any sectarian or banned outfit. The report, followed by many opposition parties, made accusations against the former PM for directing the IB to make this list to exert pressure on his party members amid fears of defections in the party after his disqualification.

The list named eight sitting ministers of the ruling party including law minister Zahid Hamid. It added Education Minister Balighur Rehman, Communications Minister Hafiz Abdul Kareem, Energy and Power Minister Awais Leghari, National Food Security Minister Sikandar Hayat Bosan, State Minister for National Food Security Ayaz Ali Shah Sherazi and State Minister for Overseas Pakistanis Abdul Rehman Kanju among others. It also named Sports Minister Riaz Pirzada as well as National Assembly Deputy Speaker Murtaza Javed Abbasi and two other senators.

A dissection of the list allegedly attributed to the IB named ruling party legislators known as voice of dissent and vocally criticizing certain party policies/steps. It also included many names of those who had left PMLN earlier in 2002 and formed Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-e-Azam (PMLQ) or they defected from PMLQ to the PMLN after Nawaz Sharif came into power in Punjab in 2008 and became PM in 2013. Many names in the list were circulated in media as possible defectors in near future after Sharif’s disqualification. And many in the list were named because of their sectarian background as they belong to Shiite community and their names were linked to Shiite alleged extremist groups.

This large list of legislators from the ruling party is also suspected to have been attempting to form “forward block” in the party. Many thought the IB might have been roped in to “maintain unity within party ranks” to strengthen the rule of PMLN.

The leaked list caused political hullaballoo in the politics of the ruling party as one minister named in the list boycotted recent cabinet meeting, while all of them walked out from National Assembly proceedings to protests against this defamation caused by the list. The hue and cry further increased when wife of a minister named in the list was denied an American visa based on the circulation of this letter.

In Pakistan, there are four major intelligence gathering agencies, two civilian and two military. Army controls Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence while IB is a civilian agency directly controlled by prime minister and Special Branch work under police department.

Following the removal of Sharif by the court, ruling party and Sharif himself are indirectly pointing towards military establishment for plotting this conspiracy to oust former PM and destabilize ruling set up. Analysts believe that ISI is countering this conspiracy theory through its sources and strategy while ruling PMLN, particularly former PM Sharif, has full control over the IB to maintain its control over the party and government affairs. Sharif, recently, managed to pass a bill from both houses of parliament to get reelected as party chief despite having minority in the upper house (Senate).

During the court proceedings of Sharif’s disqualification, one of the leaked video shows one of the cabinet ministers Khusro Bakhtiar, named in the list, saying , “We don’t care where Sharif remains PM or not. This government should not dissolve.” Another minister Asadur Rehman openly criticized former PM Sharif in cabinet meeting on different issues. One minister and his family from Sindh recently joined PMLN and party fears they might defect to their previous party – Pakistan People’s Party.

Intelligence agencies, normally, gather such information either on their own or on the advice of some boss. And usually when such documents or lists come out they plainly deny it,” political analyst Hassan Askari Rizvi said. He said this might be also under the implementation of National Action Plan where in the past we have seen politicians have local arrangements to win elections and muster support of such groups having good number of votes in different constituencies. “Personally, I will not be surprised if this document is authentic,” he said, adding, “Also, even this list is not genuine but there must be some background or some directions around this matter which was ultimately leaked by someone.” He said usually political governments in Pakistan use such civilian agencies to have control over the government and party and keep such checks to ensure loyalty of its parliamentarians to remain in power.  Even, it is normal here that intelligence tap phone, follow their target and maintain record. However, he said, nothing would come out if this issue ultimately.

Last week, PM Abbasi again tried to pacify the aggrieved lawmakers whose names have surfaced in this list with alleged links to terrorist outfits. “We demand transparent investigation into this document and its authenticity,” Riaz Pirzada, one of the named ministers said, adding, “The government should also write to the foreign office to tell the truth and to save our reputation.” The culprit or orchestrator of this document must be identified, he demanded, warning his party of sever political consequences for this.

“There must be something to this issue too. Such lists and leaks are not new in Pakistan. We have seen such thing in the past too. IB is used by political regimes to strengthen their rule,” political and security analyst Zahid Hussain said,” adding, “Civilian agency like IB is sued by prime ministers for political surveillance.” He said he would not be surprised if some kind of initiation was given to IB for such steps and some legislators might be under watch to maintain political power in the parliament.

However, a major question is how this document was leaked from IB. It indicates a proxy war between these agencies and we see media is already polarized and has become part of this “proxy war.” He said if we take the names in the list, you will not be surprised if these members are under watch because they are vocal and voice of dissent in the party. “The main thing is that one has to analyze, whether forged or leaked, this document intensifies the fears of cracks and differences within the ruling PMLN,” he said. In conclusion, it appears that the embarrassing leak for the government news may have served some purpose or vested interest.

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