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March 15, 2020

A widow made by NAB dreams of justice


March 15, 2020

ISLAMABAD: One year on, Saeeda is still struggling to settle down. She wants to break the silence but doesn’t know where to begin with. She has been unable to come out of a trauma. Saeeda has many thoughts in mind but they are jumbled together. “Sometimes, I think of writing a novel on envelopes,” she said.

The envelope was a virus of fear. She would hide it from her husband as much time as was possible. And once her husband was in receipt of this envelope, he would try to hide it from everybody on earth; his children and other family members included. The envelope would snatch smiles from his face, suffocating him to the core, leaving him lifeless for days and weeks. In envelope, he would receive notices from NAB. This finally proved fatal after a reference was filed against him of corruption that he never did.

He was scared of being labeled as accused of corrupt practices. He didn’t want paraded before media and humiliated in public. In a country like Pakistan, allegation means verdict. It is enough to ruin one’s reputation, he thought, no matter even if he is vindicated later. And National Accountability Bureau is notorious for doing all this without an iota of remorse. Finally, the punishment he decided in order to clear himself of the allegations was the mother of all punishments. He killed himself leaving behind a wife, two daughters and one granddaughter mourning.

When Brig (R) Asad Munir committed suicide a year ago on this day, the news left many people in a state of disbelief. Nobody thought this jovial man could go to this extreme. In public, he was full of life attending social events and TV talk shows. On social media, his tweets would invoke laughter. But in private, he was suffering from mental torture inflicted by NAB which would double as and when he would receive such envelope.

Inside such envelopes he would see NAB notices which had become part of his life. The case was related to his stint in Capital Development Authority as Member (Estate). A plot was restored in 2008 by CDA chairman and Asad was implicated for recommending so. That it was in line with CDA Restoration Policy 2007 was Asad’s argument. He tried to convince in vain. Each time he appeared before NAB’s investigators who “were rude, incompetent, arrogant and untrained” as he mentioned in his suicide note.

Upon return from NAB one day he was totally broken, recalls Saeeda. He said he faced a lady investigator half of his age. As he pleaded innocence, she was dismissive and said, “Here, everybody tries to become innocent.” This line was enough to torture a person who owned only one apartment, no house anywhere in Pakistan and abroad, no business and no commercial property. His assets: an apartment, 2005 model car and a modest saving.

He wasn’t only under NAB inquiry, his name was also put on Exit Control List. Again, he kept ECL news as a secret from his close relatives. So much that his daughters didn’t know. Asad had promised his only granddaughter a present --- taking her to Disneyland Paris --- on her birthday. He couldn’t keep this promise for two consecutive birthdays because he was on ECL. Instead of letting her know the reason, he would fabricate excuse of sickness or busy schedule. Reality dawned on her after Asad committed suicide.

For him, sharing NAB saga with others means stigmatising himself. Asad didn’t want his children to suspect that he was involved in any corrupt practice. Ego was yet another issue. It was as high as mountain. He didn’t want to beg favour from anybody especially when he had done nothing wrong, Saeeda said. A friend of him whom this correspondent met at Asad’s apartment said later that corruption was the scariest allegation for Asad. Incidentally, his friend was also facing a NAB inquiry in a different case.

“One day he came at my residence,” his friend recalls, and asked him about the status of the inquiry. As he told him, his friend continued, Asad said in an emotional tone, “I will not let them arrest you. Before NAB does so, I will kill you to save you from humiliation.” His friend burst into laughter and requested him “not to do any such favour as my wife still needs me.” That friend didn’t know the “favour” he was offering him he would do to himself one day.

On the fateful night, Asad was sitting in front of muted TV while chatting with his daughter, Meena Gabeena, who came to visit him. He was in a relaxed and chilled mood, Meena recalls as TV was on mute. “Both baba & I were just talking while looking at the tickers where one was about NAB reference against CDA member estate. I saw his energy going down right in front of my eyes, saw him texting on his phone secretly from me and I checked from my google to confirm if it was about baba and found his name,” Meena continued in a twitter thread.

“I didn’t know if I should give him space or be with him,” she goes on. “He didn’t want to share with me his NAB related issued. I looked at mama and told her I’d go so he can comfortably make his calls,” Meena tweeted. He was doing the text messages, which Meena had referred, to somebody for an appointment with a powerful person so that he might be able to convince him about the nature of flimsy allegations against him.

The officer agreed to meet him after a couple of days. But Asad started repenting for seeking this favour.

As he was missing from TV lounge, Saeeda started searching and found him in balcony, an odd place to sit for him.

She heard the voice of a bullet falling on earth out of pistol’s chamber. He started sobbing as his wife tried to console and convince him against taking an extreme step.

“This pistol has cheated me,” he said admitting that he was planning to shot himself. As she took away the weapon, Asad made another disclosure that he had also purchased a rope for hanging which she recovered from his coat.

Asad asked Saeeda to leave the place and instead read two notes he had left for her. One was a suicide note addressed to Chief Justice of Pakistan and another was addressed to the wife in which he had apologised for suicidal act, wrote burial will and requested her to take care of daughters. Saeeda refused to leave balcony without him and finally prevailed.

Upon returning, Asad went into the bedroom whereas Saeeda took screen shots of the notes and forwarded to somebody requesting him to persuade against extreme step. That person promised to come in the morning. In a state of distress, Saeeda kept awaking until 2:00am. After assuring that Asad was in a deep sleep, she also went to bed.

After an hour and half, her eyes opened to find Asad missing from the bedroom. She rushed to TV lounge; he was not there either. She found him hanging in study room.

This was a devastating sight that has left her in a state of mourning that she is still trying to come out from. Her quest for justice for deceased husband is bigger than her grief. “I don’t know what to do. I can’t fight with the system nevertheless I want justice for him,” she told The News.

Supreme Court had taken notice on Asad’s suicide note directing NAB to submit a report on the case. The NAB did.

Where it admitted that Asad (before CDA) had also served in NAB and was officer of integrity, NAB said he was neither called for questioning nor any warrant was issued for his arrest.

These both points are strongly contested by Saeeda who had all evidence to contradict NAB’s claim. As NAB’s report was never made public, Saeeda was only allowed to have a glimpse of it.

She wrote a letter to SC after reading that report. Other than thanking the apex court for taking action, she said her husband stood vindicated as there was nothing to prove his corruption. At the end, she requested the court to annex her letter if and when the court gave its verdict. It is still awaited.

A lot has changed since Asad took his life a year ago. A NAB Ordinance has been promulgated to curtail NAB’s power of penalising somebody on misuse of power without proof of any material benefit the accused has accrued, if any.

A recent verdict of Islamabad High Court authored by its Chief Justice Athar Minallah has also stopped NAB from arresting somebody for roving inquiries especially when an accused is cooperating with inquiry officers. For Saeeda, however, neither her husband has been cleared as of to-date of the corruption charges nor has NAB been held to account for Asad’s untimely death. Consequently, Saeeda’s pain refuses to go away. More than pain, it is guilt for having been unable to do something for her deceased husband.