Frameworks and organizations created to look over accountability in Pakistan have always given the impression of working hand-in-glove with powerful political and institutional decision makers of the country.
The process of accountability in Pakistan has become a vicious cycle of political victimisation and manipulation. Since its creation in 1947, the country has lacked an independent, uniform, and permanent model of accountability.
Pakistan has seen, at least 11 accountability laws and three dedicated accountability institutions at the federal level, in addition to similar mechanisms and departments, over the course of its history. However, the processes of accountability continue to be grossly misused. Frameworks and organisations created to look over accountability in Pakistan have always given the impression of working hand-in-glove with powerful political and institutional decision makers of the country. The process of accountability in the country lacks maturity and merit, muddling the path of a sustainable and healthy political and democratic process.
In the year 1999, Gen Pervez Musharraf introduced the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO), which subsequently created the existing institution of accountability: the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). Ever since, there have been multiple efforts by successive governments of the country to refine relevant laws in order to strengthen the accountability process in Pakistan. However, governments have failed time and again, specifically in managing sufficient political support. The ruling parties have traditionally been accused of manipulating accountability laws to eliminate political opponents. The NAB also appears to be continuously targeting opposition politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen for alleged corruption.
This image of manipulation and political gain of the NAB is reinforced by various judgments and remarks of superior courts which have declared the existing model of accountability to be a prominent instrument of political manipulation. A year ago, a two-member Supreme Court bench, in its detailed verdict on a bail application of Khwaja Saad Rafique, called the NAB a tool of political victimisation and harassment. In addition, the former chief justice of Pakistan, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, termed the NAB a “lopsided process of accountability” and a tool of “political engineering” increasigly losing its credibility. The sitting chief justice of Pakistan, Justice Gulzar Ahmed, has recently remarked that the NAB is “no longer fulfilling its purpose and is instead being used for exploitation.”
The NAB perception of being a tool of political victimization is backed by decades of relevant history. According to Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, president of Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT) “The history of accountability in Pakistan tells there has never been a genuine will for accountability and there have been no independent institutions set up to ensure impartial accountability without any bias. Impartial accountability, perhaps, was never the objective. The NAB was always meant to settle political scores in the guise of accountability,” Every government has appeared to have used accountability procedures against its political opponents. “The functioning of the NAB today is a clear example of it” adds Mehboob.
The NAB is not independent in its outlook. The body, instead, has been traditionally overshadowed by politics and power struggles. Accountability processes, over the decades, have appeared to remain a baton in the hand of the ruling elite. Despite the many fluctuations in laws passed, this manipulation of the law has remained consistent in both military and democratic regimes. After just three years of its creation, the NAB, became extremely political and biased in its actions. The use of the NAB as a weapon to change political loyalties, especially, during the elections time, does not go unnoticed by the public eye. The existing set up of accountability – via NAB – has proved to be a major tool to derail political opponents and maneuver political support. The general elections held in 2018 is the latest example where many candidates of opposition parties were reportedly pressed to change their political loyalties or face consequences through the NAB.
Over the decades, accountability mechanisms have come up with new techniques to deploy the same motive – capitalising of power by the ruling class. Every time, people think, the process of (across the board) accountability has begun, they are disappointed.
There is a frustrating repetition of politically tainted accountability disguised with new aims, ambitions and designs, not very different from old wine in a brand new bottle.
It is clear to the public that the process of accountability in the country remains a political tool used to ensure a resistance-free governance of the ruling elite. Consistent selective actions taken by the NAB to muster maximum political support, reinforce labels of political misuse and selective justice associated with the NAB.
The author is a staff reporter. He can be reached at [email protected]