A skewed accountability process


And the release of Sharif

The release of leader of the opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif on bail by a bench of the Lahore High Court raises a lot of questions about the functioning of the corruption watchdog NAB (National Accountability Bureau). The NAB kept the former chief minister in jail for a little over four months on charges about whose veracity the court in its verdict expressed open skepticism.

Judge Shazad Ahmed senior member of the bench quite skeptically asked the NAB prosecutor why it had arrested Shahbaz in the Ramzan sugar mills case when the real beneficiary was his son Hamza. The court questioned the real reasons behind the arrest.

The judgment is a strong denouement of the inner workings of the NAB. The accountability watchdog itself is in a double whammy.

Its critics contend that it is engaged in a preconceived vendetta on the behest of powers that be. Whereas the government is unhappy that it is not doing enough to nab the corrupt (read the opposition).

The federal cabinet, that somehow the ruling party now assumes to be a substitute for the parliament, expressed its disapproval over Sharif’s bail. It has asked NAB to file an appeal against the court’s decision.

What is wrong with NAB? Why it has assumed the role of the feared Tonton Macoute force of the Duvalier era in Haiti or that of the one time FSF (Federal Security Force) that Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto created to persecute the opposition.

The NAB was a brainchild of the former dictator Pervez Musharraf. Like his predecessor military strongmen he was keen to perpetuate his rule by creating a protective smokescreen of loyal politicians around him.

The NAB, anathema to the Anglo Saxon legal system prevalent in the country is based on the principle that one is guilty unless proven innocent rather than one is innocent until proven guilty.

Thanks to its legally dubious methods, NAB headed by a Musharraf loyalist general at the time combined with the unfettered might of the military dictator himself, the PML-Q was created with breakaways from the PML-N and PPP. The PML-N’s Chaudhrys of Gujrat and late Rao Sikandar Iqbal and Feisal Saleh Hayat from the PPP were the chief quislings doing Musharrf’s bidding.

It is indeed ironical that despite such shenanigans the pro Musharrf coalition could barely seek a majority in the 2002 elections. As soon as his regime tottered- the turncoats started running helter skelter in search of greener pastures- most of them getting back on-board their respective mother ships.

In this backdrop, both the PPP and the PMN-N leadership while signing the COD (Charter of Democracy) in London in 2006 vowed to form an across the board and transparent accountability process with parliamentary oversight.

The subsequent PPP and PML-N governments failed to do so albeit for different reasons. The PPP government headed by Yousaf Raza Gilani was simply not interested in any kind of accountability for itself or for others. Nawaz Sharif on the other hand kept NAB intact for his own selfish reasons.

Perhaps Sharif contended that it could be used to keep his opponents (mainly the PPP) in check if need be. After all NAB in some ways was a successor of the loathed Ehtsab Bureau created by him and headed by his minion Saifur Rehman.

While the PML–N perhaps feels that no matter how flawed and how much it has suffered owing to its arbitrary nature it should be retained to be used one day against the PTI.

Little did Sharif anticipate at the time that it would be one day used against him! Ironically this is what is happening now.

A former judge of the Supreme Court justice (Rtd) Javed Iqbal heads the NAB now. He wears two hats. Apart from leading the anti- corruption watchdog he also heads the two-member commission for missing persons.

Despite being a consensual appointee of both the PML-N and the PPP, the process that the respected judge heads they consider as skewed against them. The bureaucracy is so scared of NAB’s tactics that it is loath to move any files.

Even the hapless businessmen fear the accountability watchdog’s hammer. This is cited as one of the primary reasons behind poor domestic investment climate in the country.

Recently senior Punjab minister and erstwhile close consort of the Prime Minister Aleem Khan’s arrest by NAB raised quite a few eyebrows. It has also been announced by NAB that it has decided to move against the Chaudhrys of Gujrat. But owing to its poor credibility as an honest broker, it is perceived by most that this exercise is for the sake of creating balance rather for across the board accountability.

According to law minister Fargoh Nasim proposals to amend the NAB law are being discussed in the parliament. But no consensus has been reached so far, for reasons quite obvious.

The government wants an even tougher although a less arbitrary NAB law. While the PML–N perhaps feels that no matter how flawed and how much it has suffered owing to its arbitrary nature it should be retained to be used one day against the PTI.

This is indeed a sad commentary on the mindset of most politicians. They refuse to rise above themselves. Nor do they want any serious accountability for themselves.

The maverick Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad who was crying hoarse against Shahbaz Sharif- a criminal according to him- as chairman public accounts committee of the National Assembly has suddenly gone quiet on the issue.

Even the federal cabinet after appointing Sharif only a few weeks ago as chairman had decided to remove him. Now collectively it has a lot of egg on its face.

Naeemul Haque, a member of Khan’s kitchen cabinet the other day announced that now the time has come to evolve working relations with the opposition in the parliament. This is sane advice, provided it has the blessings if his boss.

Otherwise it will be difficult to rein in the hawks abound in the ruling coalition who insist upon doing container politics despite being in the government.

It would have been a good gesture by the government to invite the opposition leadership to the official banquet in honour of the visiting Saudi crown prince and de facto ruler Mohammad Bin Salman (MbS). The ruling party guided by its jaundiced approach decided not to, on the flimsy plea that there was not enough space and that “their (Opposition) leaders are either in jail or out on bail”.