ISLAMABAD: President Asif Zardari consulted with the Army Chief for nominating Makhdoom Shahabuddin as prime minister on June 20 evening, got a go-ahead, approved his name but the very next day his arrest warrants were issued by the Anti Narcotics Force (ANF).
The News has learnt on good authority that the president called the Army Chief for consultation and the latter sought some time, returning the call on the night of June 20, noting the decision could best be made by the political leadership as the army did not want to get involved, a fact confirmed from presidential and army officials privy to the conversation.
According to a political source, President Zardari felt alarmed as a story published in The News on June 20 stating that the Makhdoom, the hot favourite candidate for the PM slot, could be arrested any time by the ANF in connection with his alleged involvement in the case of the ephedrine quota approved by him as health minister which was later smuggled abroad.
As the ANF is manned and headed by the army, the likely issuance of an arrest warrant was interpreted as an objection on the part of the army to accepting Makhdoom as Prime Minister of Pakistan.
Finally, Zardari rang Gen. Kayani in the evening informing him of the likely decision for the PM slot that fell vacant following the disqualification of Yusaf Raza Gillani. Gen. Kayani did not respond immediately and told the president that he needed some time to think over it. Three hour later, he returned the call of the president and said: “We don’t want to get involved in political issues and leave it to the leadership to decide. The Army won’t object to whoever is elected as PM.” Military sources privy to this conversation also confirmed the contents of the discussion adding this was the last conversation between them until the election of the PM.
While some army officials confirmed this telephonic conversation between Gen Kayani and President Zardari and the response given by Kayani, officially the ISPR declined to offer a comment on the record. The presidency was contacted many times and finally spokesman Farhatullah Babar sent the following reply on Saturday evening: “Salam Cheema Sb, I always feel obligated to return calls from Umar Cheema. Unfortunately, however, I don not feel obligated so strongly to return calls from The News for a version. Trust you understand. Regards FB.”
Sources said after getting a response from the army chief, Makhdoom’s name was finalized. As he went to submit his nomination papers, TV channels started flashing breaking news about the issuance of arrest warrants by ANF. While the political sources speculate these warrants as a note of displeasure from the army, khaki officials categorically denied this insisting that reading too much between the lines is nothing but a figment of imagination. According to the khakis, the case of the Makhdoom was being processed at a normal pace and the ANF had already informed the Supreme Court of having sufficient evidence against Makhdoom and its intention of his arrest.
The ANF, a khaki official further explained, had applied for the arrest warrants to a court of magistrate on June 19, a day before the conversation took place between Gen. Kayani and President Zardari. They also refer to the hearing on June 7 of the Supreme Court where ANF conveyed in this respect and subsequent remarks by the Chief Justice for arrest of all the accused including Makhdoom when nobody was aware of Gilani’s disqualification in days to come.
The arrest warrants were not for Makhdoom alone but also for Musa Gilani, the son of disqualified Prime Minister Gilani, insist khaki officials. Makhdoom was earlier summoned in mid-May for interrogation about his alleged facilitation in approving the import of ephedrine by Danas Pharma, an Islamabad-based company that was permitted an import of 2500kg apparently for medicinal purposes which was later smuggled abroad bringing a bad name to Pakistan.
During the ANF interrogation, Makhdoom had admitted pushing DG Health Dr. Rasheed Juma for approval through a written order, reluctance by the latter notwithstanding, however he pleaded innocence saying he was caught unaware of the intended purpose. Pakistan’s internationally determined need of ephedrine is 22000kg per year but 31000kg was imported in 2010 under the watch of Makhdoom, then health minister. Of this extra import of 9000kg, 2500kg was secured by Danas Pharma and 6500kg by Berlex Lab, a Multan-based company whose alleged beneficiary was Musa Gilani.
While only 150kg was used for manufacturing medicine, the rest 8850kg was either smuggled abroad or fell into wrong hands earning profit of Rs7 billion. Ephedrine, through oxidation, can be synthesized into methcathinone, a stimulant, sometimes used as a recreational drug and considered addictive; it is usually snorted, but can be smoked, injected, or taken orally.