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23 15 15

When Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, accompanied by his delegation, met the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) and his aides in Saudi Arabia, the joke goes, neither the hosts nor the guests looked at their wristwatches — for fear of embarrassing each other.

None wanted a reminder of what had happened to a certain wristwatch, presented to former prime minister of Pakistan Imran Khan by MBS. Several memes popped up on social media, with funny lines by witty meme creators, supposedly from conversations between the two dignitaries centred on the fate of that expensive watch.

Jokes aside, had it not been for the tenacity of Islamabad-based journalist Rana Abrar Khalid, whose freedom of information request, routed via the Pakistan Information Commission (PIC), was long denied by the Cabinet Division — citing dangers to Pakistan’s relations with brotherly foreign governments — the matter would have remained buried in files. Khalid’s persistence, despite enormous pressure, including the loss of his job, pushed the matter into the Islamabad High Court (IHC).

It was the court that blew the lid off the issue. Everyone found out how many gifts Khan and his spouse had received from foreign heads of state and governments, including members of the Gulf royalty, and how many had been retained or purchased by the first couple after paying a small percentage of their value. In fact, it was the Cabinet Division’s appeal to the IHC, challenging the PIC order to make the details public, which cost Khan dearly in terms of his reputation.

The Toshakhana scandal presents a story of Pakistani greed. Imran Khan is hardly the first leader to have dipped into the state gifts repository to acquire expensive items at throwaway prices. But he’s become the first to openly profit from it

Admittedly, Khan is not the first Pakistani leader to either retain gifts received from foreign dignitaries free or by paying a small percentage of their assessed value. But there is no recorded instance of the Toshakhana [State Repository] being denuded of its rich inventory by a leader who then sold on the presents for a sizeable profit.

Although neither government’s functionaries have confirmed this, the most embarrassing element was that one of the wristwatches — one of a handful made by the manufacturer — was sold off to a Dubai jeweller. Since it was market knowledge who the rare watches had been sold to, the jeweller (or the manufacturer, tipped off by the jeweller) is alleged to have made a call........

© Dawn (Magazines)

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