Questions over the current role of NAB have been asked again after the director of archaeology and museums for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Dr Abdul Samad, was presented before an accountability court in Peshawar in chains last week. The protests against his arrest were such that even Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted against the treatment of such a respected figure. Already, the death of another academic in NAB custody a few months back had raised questions over the bureau’s treatment of those it arrests. The point is not that investigations against corruption should not take place, or should not be extended to academics. But there does need to be a protocol that involves gathering evidence and preparing the charges in advance, instead of this helter-skelter strategy where NAB seems to effectively rely on a confession by the accused after keeping them in cuffs and chains.
In the case of Dr Samad, the matter being investigated itself appears fickle and does not befit reprimanding someone seen as an asset to the people. Dr Samad is the only PhD in Sanskrit in Asia and an award-winning archaeologist. His charge: employing around 90 low-paid workers to ward off illegal excavations, which are a serious issue in the context of KP’s vast heritage, which includes a number of poorly preserved Buddhist heritage sites. There is no corruption charge against the KP archaeology director. The accusation is merely illegal appointments, which pretty much in this case may just mean charging Dr Samad for taking his job seriously.
The absence of lower-level staff is a major reason why Pakistan’s heritage sites are in disrepair. If Dr Samad recognised this fact and attempted to rectify the situation through the funds allocated to his department, it hardly seems much of a crime. At a time when the government is making much noise about bringing well-educated Pakistanis back to the country, the treatment meted out to Dr Samad makes a convincing case for why well-intentioned individuals may not do well here. It is a wonder why the NAB chairman has announced he is taking notice of the issue after all the outrage over Dr Samad’s arrest. NAB, for its part, has defended the arrest claiming that ‘illegal appointments at any pay scale is corruption.’ It has also claimed that artefacts worth billions went missing during Dr Samad’s tenure. NAB of course has a right to investigate the matter, but it is important that the charges and the evidence be shared publicly in this issue. The bureau also needs to revisit its protocol on how to treat academics and other respected members of society. It is only doing its own reputation damage at the moment.