Sarmad Ishfaq is an independent researcher and writer whose work has been published by Harvard Kennedy School Review, the Diplomat, Open Democracy, Paradigm Shift, Mondoweiss, and Eurasia Review to name a few. He has also been published by several international peer-reviewed journals such as Taylor and Francis' Social Identities. Before becoming an independent writer, he worked as a research fellow for the Lahore Center for Peace Research. He has a master's degree in International Relations from the University of Wollongong in Dubai where he was recognized as the 'Top Graduate'.
Strange things have been transpiring in Pakistan since Imran Khan’s ouster – which itself was marred with bizarreness, to say the least. The incumbent PDM government, alleged to be the product of US and local connivances, has faced massive criticism due to several reasons, some by their own design and others by sheer incompetence.
This includes the unprecedented increase in fuel and commodity prices, the scraping of the EVM bill, clipping the wings of the National Accountability Bureau, refusal to buy cheap hydrocarbons from Russia, using tear gas on innocent Pakistanis, raiding houses without warrants, and mismanaging electricity so much so that there are now extreme levels of load shedding all across Pakistan. While these things seem bad enough, there have been a few other peculiarities that have raised the eyebrows of Pakistan’s populace.
Dr. Rizwan and the Ramzan Sugar Mill Case
The PDM government’s Prime Minister, Shahbaz Sharif (PML-N), assumed office on the 11th of May, 2022. He along with most of his cabinet have corruption charges against them – many in his cabinet are currently out on bail. The prime minister, and his son, Hamza Shahbaz, the current chief minister of Punjab, have billions of rupees worth of corruption charges on them in the Ramzan Sugar Mill case as well as in the Al-Arabia Sugar Mills case.
Unfortunately, the former Director of FIA, Dr. Rizwan, who was presiding over the Ramzan Sugar Mill case, died of a sudden cardiac arrest on 9th May. He was also presiding over the JDW Sugar Mills case against Jahangir Tareen (a PTI dissident). When the PDM government came to power, Dr Rizwan’s name was added to the Stop List and he himself asked for leaves on April 9th, following the alleged regime change operation in Pakistan.
Dr. Rizwan was also allegedly threatened by Hamza Shahbaz with veiled words to the effect of “times can change very quickly”. Akin to Dr. Rizwan, another official named Noman Asghar also suffered a heart attack but survived – he too was investigating the Sharif’s alleged corruption.
Nadeem Akhtar and Malik Maqsood Chaprasi
The rabbit hole goes deeper as the FIA Assistant Director, Nadeem Akhtar, who was the investigation officer in the money laundering case against the Sharifs, was also hospitalized due to a heart attack he suffered on May 13th. Owing to this bizarre turn of events, Imran Khan urged the Supreme Court to take suo moto action citing foul play.
Now, this could all be just a happy coincidence for the Sharifs but when you couple this with the latest bombshell, it might just be more than that. On June 6th, a key witness in the multi-billion rupees money laundering case against Shahbaz Sharif and Hamza Shahbaz, Malik Maqsood, colloquially known as Maqsood Chaprasi, died due to a cardiac arrest.
Malik Maqsood Chaprasi was living in Dubai and was only 48 years old. He was a peon for the Sharifs and became a central figure in the case when the FIA claimed that he received Rs. 3 billion in his bank account. Speculation is abundant with reports claiming that Malik Maqsood Chaprasi had marks on his hands – however, the authenticity of such speculation is unknown.
Of the total Rs. 25 billion which was disbursed in the accounts of various low-wage employees of the Sharifs, around Rs. 3.7 billion were transferred to the account of Malik Maqsood Chaprasi. Besides Maqsood, there are a few other Ramzan Sugar Mill employees who the FIA alleges received exorbitant amounts in their accounts.
For example, documents revealed that Ghulam Shabbir, a storekeeper, received Rs. 434 million – he passed away about a year ago. Similarly, Gulzar Ahmed, who was also a recipient of an exorbitant amount of money in his account also passed away. Furthermore, there are reports that another person, Muhammad Raza, involved in the money laundering case, also died. These four witnesses died apparently due to heart attacks.
Former PM Imran Khan, indefatigable as ever, has mentioned all of the aforementioned deceased, from the FIA officials to the low-wage Sharif employees, in various speeches and has brazenly stated that, in his opinion, there was foul play involved. He mentioned that he would illuminate the Pakistani public about a poison that induces heart attacks and that these deaths, which all revolve around the money laundering cases, were not mere happenstance.
A Series of Suicides
On June 14th, just as I was writing this piece, an assistant commissioner committed suicide in Lahore. Imran Abbasi, who was a grade 19 civil servant, was found hanging from his ceiling fan. He was transferred to Lahore only a few days ago from Islamabad. He was previously the Director Anti-Corruption in Bahawalpur and Faisalabad – this has raised some eyebrows since he committed suicide after only a few days after his posting.
There is news circulating on social media that he had tackled cases related to people in the incumbent government, but it is currently unclear if these statements have any veracity to them. Besides all this, the government has also come under fire for mandating the postings of FIA officers who were investigating high-profile cases against politicians including the Sharifs.
The Supreme Court took suo moto action and expressed concern over these transfers. The SC ordered that authorities cannot withdraw any cases, transfer any officials, or make new appointments. All of this plays well for Imran Khan who has been clamoring since he was ousted, that the only reason the PDM came to power was to avert justice, undermine the due process, make their cases disappear, and settle their affairs to make the conditions more favorable for them in the next elections.
A Similar Pattern
Unfortunately, this is hardly anything new in Pakistan. The country has experienced a myriad of central figures in high-profile cases either disappearing, exiling themselves, being posted, or dying in strange circumstances. One curious case was that of Kamran Faisal, a NAB officer, who was investigating the Rental Power Project (RPP) scandal – in which the former PM and the current speaker of the National Assembly, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf (PPP) was accused of taking kickbacks.
Kamran Faisal was found hanging from a ceiling fan on Jan 18th, 2013. His death came just three days after the Supreme Court ordered NAB to arrest the accused in the RPP case – including Raja Pervaiz Ashraf. The initial autopsy suggested that his death was a suicide, but his family vehemently rejected this find, stating that he would never take his own life.
The Supreme Court noted that his death was not ordinary and that he was under immense pressure tackling the high-profile case. The Punjab Forensic Science Agency (PFSA) stated that there was no intoxicating material detected in his system and while there were some marks on his arms, they were not of a serious nature. Mr. Faisal’s father, however, claimed that the “torture” marks on his son’s hands suggested that there was foul play.
In a contentious move, the PFSA exhumed the body and obtained his clothes to re-examine everything. The case is as elusive as it was in 2013 as there were reports that Faisal was taking anti-depressants and was under immense pressure due to alleged threats. His colleagues also mirrored similar sentiments and many believed that he was murdered or was pressured so much that he committed suicide.
Another uncanny case was that of Khalid Shahenshah, the top security guard of former PM, Benazir Bhutto. After Benazir Bhutto was murdered, he came under the radar of investigators when footage of him making suspicious gestures during Benazir’s last speech at Liaquat Bagh surfaced. He was shot dead by unidentified men on motorbikes in Karachi.
Another person related to the Benazir murder case was prosecutor Zulfiqar Ali. He was the FIA’s special prosecutor in the murder case and was shot 17 times by two assailants in Islamabad while he was driving to the court for a hearing in the case. His reputation was one of bravery, courage and steadfastness, as he was known to pursue justice even in the face of death threats.
While technically lightning can strike twice in the same place – i.e. coincidences can happen – but in Pakistan, a country run by certain mafias (with a disregard for the law), things are never as they appear. The country is overburdened with a history of disappearances, suicides, murders, and postings in high-profile cases – and this legacy unfortunately still haunts the nation.
Mafias exist, murder is commonplace, and the guilty roam free in luxury cars. Am I saying that all the deceased mentioned above were murdered? Not at all. Is there even any proof that Dr. Rizwan, Malik Masood, and others related to the money laundering case were murdered? Nothing concrete as of now.
It all might be circumstantial at best, but it is one hell of a coincidence that central figures in the case keep dying or suffering from heart attacks. This “coincidence” is compounded further when one considers the ubiquity of such events in the country’s past. In Pakistan, lightning can evidently strike the same place a million times.
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