End of ‘A’ class

  • The government goes after the opposition


A proposed end to ‘A’ class jails was unveiled with much fanfare, with the combined weight of the PM’s Information and Broadcasting Adviser Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan and Federal Law and Justice Minister Dr Farogh Naseem behind its rollout. However, the expected legislative blow for accountability, and thus against corruption, turned out to be a piece of targeted legislation meant not so much as to persecute the opposition, as to hound those already arrested. While Dr Awan and Dr Naseem tried to present the NAB Ordinance amendment as an equalising step, it seems meant to slake a spirit of vengefulness which the PTI’s own leaders seem trapped by.

It has taken the government into two separately difficult areas, neither of which it would like to visit. The first is whether the legislation will be allowed to stand as an Ordinance, even though the lack of a Senate majority means that it can only pass through that House with opposition consent. The second is whether the prohibition of ‘A’ Class and ‘B’ Class in jail is deemed a punishment or not. If it is, would it be applicable to those under trial and who have not been convicted?

At the recent beginning of the new parliamentary year, the Chief Justice of Pakistan found himself constrained to remark that the accountability process was causing the judiciary’s image to be tarnished. Going by this standard, it is not easy to see this law meeting the touchstone of fairness established by the learned Chief Justice. It is also not possible to see how this law would satisfy the PTI’s base, and it is also liable to a degree, even if less has been embezzled. The ordinance sets Rs500 million as the limit of the amount suspected embezzled before ‘C’ Class becomes compulsory. That means that an accusation of more than Rs500 million is enough to ensure ‘C Class’. Is the purpose of this statute to improve justice? Or simply to ensure that opposition figures like Hamza Shehbaz and Mariam Nawaz, ex-PMs like Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and ex-presidents like Asif Zardari are flung into ‘C’ Class even though they have not been convicted.