The arrest of senior leader of PPP, politician and parliamentarian Syed Khurshid Shah by the NAB has one again raised the question of political engineering and victimisation. The arrest of Khurshid Shah and possible arrest of CM Sindh Syed Murad Ali Shah and senior PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal in coming days will strengthen this impression. At least two dozen parliamentarians belonging to PPP and PML-N are on the NAB radar and expected to be arrested in coming period.
There is strong impression that NAB only targets the opposition figures and sit quietly on the files of all those who are part of the government. The opposition politicians are seems to be real target of NAB’s anti-corruption drive. This deep impression is damaging the credulity of NAB.
The interesting factor is that Pakistan continued to ride on the ladder of corruption index of Transparency International even in the presence of NAB for many years. The mega corruption scandals emerged during the period of existing NAB. The media unearthed most of these mega corruption scandals.
The history of NAB claims and charges against different politicians clearly prove one point, NAB first made big claims and then started to get evidence. Take the example of Dr. Asim Hussain. NAB claimed that Dr. Asim Hussain amassed Rs 470 billion through corruption, kickbacks and other unfair illegal means. It was the main story on the media for months. But nobody now talks about this Rs. 470 billion corruption. NAB hasn’t proved anything against Dr. Asim so far in the accountability court. His case is still pending in the court despite the passage of at least 3 years.
Now NAB comes up with claim of Rs. 500 billion against corruption and assets acquired through illegal means and corrupt practices. This amount is nearly a one year budget of Sindh province and at least 10 years total budget of Karachi. Now NAB comes up the fairy tale of Rs.500 billion against Syed Khurshid Shah. He is one of the most respected and seasoned parliamentarian in the country.
The NAB initiated inquiry against Syed Khurshid Shah on August 07, 2019 and after just one and a half months inquiry- NAB decided to arrest him. On the other hand, sitting government ministers are facing inquiries for years and months without any arrest. The message is clear that if you are part of PPP and PML-N and not ready to change your political loyalty then NAB is there to arrest you, humiliate you and to run malicious character assassination campaign through the controlled media.
Political loyalty has been made a crime in Naya Pakistan. In the old Pakistan, political loyalty was considered a qualification of a good politician. In Naya Pakistan, change of political loyalty after every few year has become new qualification of good politician. It doesn’t matter how corrupt you are? How many inquiries are pending against you? How many corruption allegation you are facing?
NAB will not touch you if you are part of the PTI government. NAB will not ask you a question if you have already changed your political loyalty or still ready to ditch your party.
The arrests of leading opposition figures on corruption charges deepen the impression that accountability drive is selective and politically motivated.
Chief Justice of Pakistan Asif Saeed Khosa also expressed his concern about the perception of political engineering in his address to a ceremony marking the new judicial year at Supreme Court building Islamabad recently. He said the growing perception that the ongoing process of accountability was lopsided and politically engineered was dangerous and urgent steps were needed to ensure that the anti-graft campaign did not lose its credibility.
The Chief Justice further said “The recovery of stolen wealth of the citizenry is a noble cause but if in the process the recognised standards of fairness and impartiality are compromised then the retrieval of the lost constitutional and legal morality may pose an even bigger challenge. While talking of social and economic justice, the Objectives Resolution of 1949 and the Preamble to the Constitution also speak of political justice.”
Accountability is a double-edged sword. This is because it can cleanse society of corruption and nepotism but, if applied selectively it can create and nurture another generation of corrupt individuals. The current process of accountability unleashed by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in collaboration with the Supreme Court (SC) is something new for Pakistan.
Accountability drives are not a new phenomenon in Pakistan. Since the days of Ayub Khan’s martial law till today, many if not most of the regimes have attempted to clamp down on corruption. But all of these drives came with hidden motives; hence there could be no true accountability. When those who were supposed to be role models for their integrity were involved in corruption and nepotism, Pakistan sank deeper into a vicious cycle of financial and administrative chaos and mismanagement.
A fair system of accountability has also remained elusive in Pakistan. Numerous efforts have been made in the past to institute a credible mechanism of accountability but almost all such efforts failed to win the trust of the people and establish a system which could continue at a steady pace without being interrupted by political exigencies.
From the Public and Representative Office (Disqualification) Act (PRODA) of 1949 to the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO), 1999, at the federal level and KP’s Ehtesab Commission Act of 2014 at the provincial level, around a dozen laws have been promulgated and some half a dozen institutions created in the name of accountability in the past 70 years — and then wrapped up. The mere fact that so many accountability laws had to be repealed in the past indicates the poor level of trust in or satisfaction with the system of accountability which these laws sought to create.
The latest, and probably the most enduring, accountability mechanism to date is the one created in the form of the NAO and the resulting institution, the National Accountability Bureau. Although NAB was created by Gen Musharraf’s military government and was extensively abused later by the same government to achieve his political ambitions.
Political engineering, victimisation and to serve the political interest of the sitting government is the hall mark of NAB. Pakistan needs to replace this highly politicised institution with an independent, impartial and competent institution for across the board accountability. NAB has lost its credulity and needs to be wrapped up. Accountability of politicians, civil and military bureaucracy, judges and businessmen must continue to get rid of corruption. But it should be done in transparent, impartial and fair way.
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17 November, 2019