When the entire nation was thinking that a crook was meeting his fate by going to jail, President Asif Zardari was so shaken and stunned that he sent four of his key aides and assistants to meet and convey his support to the disgraced FIA official, Ahmed Riaz Sheikh, arrested and jailed on the orders of the Supreme Court two days ago. One of the president’s friends, Dr Qayyum Soomro, even escorted Sheikh to the Adiala Jail.
According to sources close to the president, Zardari was himself prepared to visit Sheikh in the police lock up if the presidential protocol and security had not come in his way.
Speaking to The News, senior PPP leaders, who frequently interact with the president and know his mind, said almost with one voice that Zardari was never so shaken and stunned over the arrest or imprisonment of any single individual of his party or his loyalist as he was on Sheikh’s arrest. They say the president is so fond and supportive of Sheikh that he is going to bestow some important official or unofficial political and non-bureaucratic position like his special assistant, which is not hit by his conviction on a corruption charge.
“He will certainly be accommodated but his title will be decided after he walks out of the prison,” one of them said. “The government has many ways to install its pets at lucrative berths like Dr Qayyum Soomro has no official title, yet the clout and power he carries is known to all and sundry simply because of his closeness to the president.” Beneficiaries of the sprawling wealth of Sheikh allegedly abound in different segments of the society.
These PPP leaders say the purpose of making Sheikh’s wife an MPA and giving a key position to his son, Hashaam, at the Presidency some time back was to honour the father for his services to the party and his courage to withstand every kind of pressure.
Though the president could not personally see Sheikh in prison because of the barrier of the official protocol, he immediately sent his close aides, including Dr Qayyum Soomro, Rukhsana Bangash, Farahnaz Ishphani and Fauzia Habib, to meet Sheikh in the lockup of the Secretariat Police Station of Islamabad to convey his solidarity and support to him. Dr Soomro even accompanied him during his escort to the Adiala Jail.
Sources say that the PPP’s relations with Sheikh started strengthening after he, under the supervision of Rehman Malik during their days in the FIA, had showed “matchless courage” in arresting Mian Mohammad Sharif, the father of the Sharif brothers, in a crude manner from his Lahore office in the second tenure of Benazir Bhutto as prime minister.
As her government was dismissed, Sheikh came under a cloud and was arraigned for corruption charges. However, the PPP never dumped him and always stood by him. Immediately after his reinstatement in the wake of the coming to power of the PPP in 2008, Sheikh was posted in the Intelligence Bureau and made chief of its Lahore office.
Millions of rupees from the secret funds were allegedly put at his disposal for different covert operations, mostly political to buy support for the PPP. However, when his role became too controversial and he was publicly exposed, he was transferred to the FIA.
There are no reports indicating that jail authorities have meted out any harsh treatment to Sheikh for manhandling elderly Sharif although the prison is in the Punjab being ruled by his son, Shahbaz Sharif. One report said that as Sheikh was shifted to the jail, he was lodged in its hospital and not in the prisoners’ cell.
By Tariq Butt at The News