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December 8, 2018

Swati’s resignation


December 8, 2018

The resignation of Minister of Science and Technology Azam Swati after allegations that he played an improper role in the transfer of a former Islamabad police chief has called into question the PTI’s claim that it would break with the practices of previous governments and take decisions only on the basis of merit. Already, the Punjab chief minister had been rebuked by the courts for his transfer of the Pakpattan DPO, and now with Swati’s resignation it is clear that was not an isolated incident. A Joint Investigation Team formed by the Supreme Court held that Swati was to blame for an altercation with his neighbours after he accused them of allowing their cattle to encroach on his farmland. It appears that Swati then approached the Islamabad IGP to take action against the neighbours and then recommended his transfer when he didn’t respond swiftly enough. As if this alleged abuse of power is not bad enough, the Capital Development Authority now claims that Swati’s farmhouse itself encroaches on government land. This sordid affair certainly gives lie to claims we will now see a cleaner kind of politics. While Swati’s resignation was certainly needed, that alone will not be sufficient to prevent furthers such instances.

First, the government needs to acknowledge that it was wrong of government ministers to take revenge on police officers who had displeased them. If the government claims to want a depoliticised police force, it cannot allow those who explicitly do the opposite. Swati may have stood down as science and technology minister but he is still a member of parliament and has not admitted any wrongdoing. The larger issue here is the misuse of law-enforcement resources by the government. There have also been genuine worries recently that the National Accountability Bureau is not as independent as one would want it to be. Fears like that always lead to concerns among political opponents that they may be targeted. For all the talk of ushering in a new system, it seems some old habits may be harder to break than others.

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