IN his article published in the Fact Focus on 22 December 2018, Ahmed Noorani, a Pakistani investigative journalist has alleged that the family of Lt Gen Asim Bajwa (R), Chairman CPEC Authority, has made their business fortunes/assets abroad and in Pakistan using his influence during his army service and then as a Chairman of the CPEC Authority. Noorani writes, “The growth of the Bajwa family’s business empire in the US and later in Pakistan directly matches the rise in power of the retired general Asim Saleem Bajwa”. Noorani further writes, “Lt Gen Asim’s brothers and his wife and sons now own a business empire, which has set up 99 companies abroad, including a pizza franchise with 133 restaurants worth an estimated $39.9 million”. He adds, “The Bajwa family’s companies, named as Bajco Group spent an estimated $52.2 million to develop their businesses and $14.5 million to purchase properties in the US. Asim Bajwa’s sons joined the Bajco Group companies in 2015 and also started establishing new companies in Pakistan and in the US after Lt. Gen. Bajwa became Director General of ISPR and commander of the Southern Command”.
According to Noorani, “Lt Gen (R) Asim’s wife was a shareholder in all the foreign businesses from the very beginning. At present, Asim’s wife, Farrukh Zeba, is associated with or is a shareholder in 85 companies, including 82 foreign companies which have investments in real estate sector and own some thirteen commercial properties in the US. The estimated current net worth of businesses and properties of these companies jointly owned by Farrukh Zeba stands at $52.7 million”. As per Noorani, in his declaration of assets and liabilities signed in June 2020 as a Special Assistant (SAPM) to the Prime Minister, Asim Bajwa declared an investment of $18,468 (rupees 3.1 million) in his wife’s name. As published in the Tribune, Pakistan, dated 21 October 2020, Lt Gen (R) Asim Saleem Bajwa, has issued a detailed rebuttal of Noorani’s allegations. He noted that the first allegation was that his declaration of assets and liabilities as an SAPM on June 22, 2020 did not show the investment of his wife abroad. He stated, “On the date of filing of the declaration, my wife was no longer an investor or shareholder in any business of my brothers or anyone else, abroad, as she had disinvested all her interests as of June 1, 2020 in any entity abroad and this fact had been duly documented in the official records in the US. Hence, it is clear that the news item has been published by Noorani to malign my reputation”.
Asim Bajwa wrote, “From 2002 to June 1, 2020(18 years), the total out-of-pocket investment made by my wife in the companies of my brothers in the US had been $19,492.This investment was made by my wife through my savings spread over a period of eighteen years, all of which are fully accounted for. Not once the rules or regulations prescribed by the State Bank of Pakistan were violated.” Lt Gen (R) Asim then said, “In a span of eighteen years, ie from 2002 till date my brothers have purchased the Papa John’s Pizza chain franchise and related assets, and real estate abroad to the tune of $70 million, out of which around $60 million were bank loans. Out-of-pocket cash investment in these businesses by his brothers and wife had been about $73,950, out of which my wife’s contribution was $19492 and my five brothers’ contribution has been $54,458”, which was fully accounted for and relatable to their own resources. Moreover, the allegation that a business entity of my two brothers by the name of Silkline Enterprises (Pvt) Ltd had been formed to acquire CPEC contracts was baseless, as the company had never acquired any CPEC contract”.
These clarifications were made by Lt. Gen (R) Bajwa earlier also in a press conference and he had also presented these clarfications to the PM, who had said that he was satisfied with Bajwa’s replies. Despite these clarifications, Noorani had got published the allegations again in an unknown website. In view of a clear response given by Lt Gen (R) Asim to the allegations, it seems that Noorani’s allegations are meant to defame Asim Bajwa and to distract him to undermine the development of the CPEC, being the Chairman of the CPEC Authority. Then, running of that story on the Pakistani media in conjunction with a smear campaign to target CPEC, looked to be a misled agenda, because Ahmed Noorani appears to have reproduced the same allegations levelled against Lt. Gen. (R) Asim by an Indian Maj (R) Gaurav Arya, a month before. This makes Ahmed Noorani’s story incredible.
In view of the above discussion, it seems that in his story making, Noorani is misled by the western concept of freedom of speech/press and rationality, which are in fact only meant to serve their national interests. Therefore, it would be more appropriate, if while writing their news stories about the Pakistan Army, the CPEC and other strategic issues the Pakistani journalists and media should also be mindful of keeping in mind Pakistan’s strategic and economic interests. Moreover, the Pakistani media and journalists should also realize the Indian media’s strategy, which, during the last two years has been in the forefront to carry out propaganda with full unity against the Pakistan Army, the CPEC, Pakistan’s Kashmir policy and Pakistan’s political and economic stability, running stories based on lies and distortion of facts, just to weaken Pakistan’s international standing, and its internal harmony to damage its integrity. Even the Indian media are now propagating the absurd news that civil war has started in Pakistan. And, if the Pakistani media and journalists also start criticizing Pakistan as Indian media is doing, this would inadvertently strengthen India’s narrative about Pakistan. This realization by the Pakistani media managers and PEMRA is even more important, when India’s anti Pakistan agenda is becoming more aggressive as it is getting encouraged now, being a close defence partner of the US.
—The writer is an ex-Army Colonel and Senior Research Fellow, Strategic Vision Institute, Islamabad.