By Shaheen Sehbai

As I was trying to get over my jet lag in Islamabad, a hurriedly called news conference by the PEMRA chief Absar Alam caught my eye and almost shook me up. I had heard about the tensions between the government and the establishment but were things so bad I had not expected. Poor Absar had let the cat out of the bag, if it was not already running amok in the streets. He stood up before the nation on TV and cursed the courts, hinted at the intelligence agencies and blamed those who loved and hated him, alike. His rants were more like screams of someone stuck under the debris of a falling behemoth of stinking garbage.

Mr Alam said PEMRA was not being allowed to work, courts were interfering in its work, people were threatening its workers/officials and he had, in his wisdom, sought the help of the prime minister, the chief justice and the army chief to get relief. What struck me was the evidence he produced before awe struck media men and viewers at home clutching their seats. It was a recorded audio recording of a conversation which he said was from someone he could not name or identify. The guy was ordering and threatening someone in PEMRA to reopen a TV channel (probably BOL), which Mr Alam had banned 24 hours ago but the courts had ordered that it be opened.

“This is not how we, as a part of the “State” of Pakistan, can work,” Mr Alam cried. The Big-3 must intervene and quickly to save his institution and its officials. The tape, probably edited in a hurry, revealed much more than Absar may have wanted. He exposed PEMRA.

The gentleman who was speaking had an authoritative tone, was bossing the PEMRA official who must have been a senior guy, even told him his name, designation and where he was calling from (which was bleeped by Mr Alam), revealed that he had also been talking to the same guy a day earlier or even many times before and said if his orders were not carried out there may be consequences.

This scared the PEMRA chief, who decided to attack the guy, not frontally as he was too frightened to name him, although he knew well who he was. When asked why he was not lodging an FIR against the person who was hurling threats, the answer was stupid and hilarious. “Because the FIR would have to be lodged in the police station of the same area,” meaning Aabpara, if I am not mistaken. How dumb can Mr Alam be?

But the phone conversation was legally, or may be illegally, taped by PEMRA and because Mr Alam who apparently knew the guy, could not dare to lodge a legal FIR. So he decided to go political and dragged the PM, Chief Justice and the Army Chief in the fray, cried about how he was being stopped from serving the State and threatened to stop working, but stopped short of resigning. It was all managed to hit at the hidden forces now tightening the noose around the boss who appointed him. In the process he did a great disservice. The taped conversation revealed the intensely terse and bitter state of relations between the warring sides.

At one stage the caller said “when soon the PM would be out of office, the PEMRA official would also be shunted out” and Mr Alam put on a disguised bleep on some portions of that talk. The senior PEMRA guy was so scared he could hardly speak and quickly agreed to what he was being told. He also knew well who was on the other side of the line.

Mr Absar Alam made it clear in his press talk he was a loyal Nawaz Sharif guy and confirmed the shabby tactics that were used to appoint him at this top position. He was there because of his boss and “our hearts and minds are one,” he said. “But the PM never interferes in my work.” The obvious justification was why should he when you know what he wants and are performing according to his will, not the State which pays you.

Coming at a time when Dawn Leaks is messing up civil-military relations and Panama Leaks is hovering over the entire political system, Mr Absar Alam took the fight one step forward. Now the guy who called PEMRA, and Mr Alam (and his PM), know and both sides understand the gloves are off. There is no need for disguise and deception anymore. So wait for the next shot, from one side or the other.

 

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