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Shabbar Zaidi in political crossfire

Shabbar Zaidi in political crossfire

KARACHI: Former chairman FBR Shabbar Zaidi found himself in the political crossfire that has gripped the country since the opposition rallied under the banner of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM).

In a series of tweets sent during prime time broadcast hours, he lashed out at the “status quo” after he was cited by PDM head Maulana Fazlur Rehman who referred to a message attributed to Mr Zaidi as a “confession” and called it “an FIR against the government”.

The PDM leader seems to have made reference to a fake Facebook post appearing to be from Shabbar Zaidi saying he was prevented from taking action against the sugar mafia by the prime minister himself.

“What Maulana Fazlur Rehman and PDM said before the press is completely incorrect,” Zaidi tweeted at 7:41PM on Tuesday. “My respect for Imran Khan increased many times after working with him. He is great leader and a warrior against status quo. I respect and salute him.”

Four minutes later he returned with another salvo. “I said in my Whatapps that it is a ‘state sponsored corruption’. It meant that no government before IK had the courage to take on undocumented retail sector, middlemen and many others. How much agricultural income tax is paid. Does it reconcile with their wealth statement.”

The reference was to a long message written by him that circulated on WhatsApp for a number of days in which he lamented the absence of a meaningful policy conversation in the country.

Last Thursday he had publicly owned the lengthy message, saying it was first floated in a WhatsApp group called “Corporate Pakistan”. Then again on Sunday he said “[t]he document in circulation is message in the group ‘Corporate Pakistan’ and C 100. I have left both the group. What I said is my feeling.”

Then last night, after firing off two tweets in response to the Maulana’s remarks, he returned slightly less than an hour later with a third salvo in which he went a step further, taking a shot at PDM leader Maryam Nawaz, admitting his involvement in the Panama Papers case that led to the disqualification of then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and underlining his longstanding closeness to Imran Khan.

“My former firm A. F. Ferguson & Co has been dealing with tax return of IK for over two decades. I assisted him during Panama case hearing. I also gave a bold opinion to the effect that Maryam Nawaz is not a dependent MNS for tax. My support to IK is now multi­plied by 100 per cent,” he said 8:36PM.

The Maulana’s reference, and Zaidi’s sharp ripostes sparked frenzied television coverage during prime time, and lit up political WhatsApp groups around the country.

Reacting to Zaidi’s tweets, former PML-N finance minister Miftah Ismael pointed to what he called the “abysmal performance” of the former FBR chairman’s track record in office.

“The fact is that Shabbar saab agreed to an unrealistic revenue target of Rs5,555 billion but in the end had abysmal performance, collecting less than Rs4,000bn,” he says while speaking with Dawn.

He said no previous governments had the ‘courage to tackle’ various undocumented sectors of the economy and only Imran Khan did. "If that’s the case then why don’t we see increased taxes? Why have taxes generally or direct taxes in particular not increased?"

“Shabbar saab used to admonish us all for not relying on direct taxes, for not collecting more taxes, etc yet he failed spectacularly in this himself. And rather than blaming the entire society and calling everyone else a tax cheat, perhaps greater introspection is required by him.”

Published in Dawn, November 18th, 2020

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