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May 28, 2020

NAB: a tragedy

Opinion

May 28, 2020

NAB is back in action – or so it seems. Having been discredited for the last two years, it is trying to make another attempt to restore its credibility.

But the latest round is no different from the first one initiated in 2018 – in both cases, the motive has been political. The main target this time seems to be Shahbaz Sharif. He was also the first one among the opposition to be targeted immediately after the PTI came into power and was arrested in October 2018.

Having miserably failed in the first round, why would NAB attempt to initiate new cases or open up cases which had been rejected by the courts earlier? Of course, it is all political. The fact that Shahzad Akbar, the prime minister’s accountability czar, leads the accusations and allegations, confirms this view.

The PML-N remains the most popular political party in the country. This in spite of all the efforts to discredit it in the eyes of the people through massive propaganda and having members of the party change loyalties via coercion. The government has miserably failed to deliver on all fronts – economy, foreign policy, governance and other matters. As the failure becomes more apparent with each passing month, the PML-N comes through as the people’s natural choice.

It is important to recall the decision and observations of the superior judiciary when the judgement was given in favour of Shahbaz Sharif. The Supreme Court bench headed by the former chief justice had this to say in its judgement: “Unable to understand how the former chief minister was guilty of misusing his authority or committing or indulging in corruption when he himself sent the matter to a committee and later to the Punjab Anti-Corruption department when the allegations of procedural irregularities came to his notice.’

The former chief justice further noted that the former chief minister appears to be the good guy in the entire case.

The court could not have used stronger words than the ones mentioned above. If at all, NAB and the current government should have shown some remorse after this judgment. But rather than remorse, NAB seems to have doubled its efforts.

In addition to Shahbaz Sharif, several members of the PML-N and those of other opposition parties were put behind bars. They included former PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Maryam Nawaz, Ahsan Iqbal, Hamza Shahbaz, Rana Sanaullah, Miftah Ismail, Saad Rafique, Salman Rafique and others. Except for Hamza Shahbaz, all others have been released with high court or Supreme Court orders. In almost all cases, no reference was filed even after several months while the political leadership remained under detention.

Hamza Shahbaz has been in jail for almost a year and during this entire period, NAB’s investigation has been no more than a few hours. Clearly, NAB has failed to establish any case against Hamz ; yet he remains under detention.

Not to forget Mian Nawaz Sharif who has suffered the most from this one-sided accountability – rather, witch-hunt. NAB’s conduct is not just limited to opposition politicians. It has not spared corporate executives, top business owners and even media people.

The initiation of the case and subsequent arrest of the owner of Geo/Jang Group Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman is a classic example of the state silencing the media – in this case, the largest media group in the country. The case relates to a 34-year-old case.

We know how unhappy the independent policy of the Geo /Jang group has made the government. We also saw how during the 2014 dharna Imran Khan had openly expressed his anger against the group. It has now been more than two months since Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman has been under NAB detention without any evidence of wrongdoing or initiation of any case. This is a mockery of justice and has further damaged NAB’s credibility and fairness. Wonder what NAB was doing all these decades in this matter?

NAB was set up to identify and pursue cases of corruption, kickbacks, commission and similar acts of misuse of authority by public office-holders. The objective was reasonable: that public office-holders should not misuse their official positions to financially benefit themselves or their families or cronies.

Like the former chief justice rightly pointed out in the case involving Shahbaz Sharif: where is the corruption or misuse of authority? This is the fundamental question that NAB needs to answer before initiating any case. Had they done that in all the cases since August 2018, there would have been no case against Shahbaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Saad Rafique and others who unfortunately had to suffer a witch-hunt. That seems to be far more important an objective than delivery on the economic and governance fronts. That’s the tragedy of the last two years.

The writer is former governor Sindh and former minister for privatisation.