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ISLAMABAD, May 28: Only a week before a new government is to take over, the Supreme Court set aside on Tuesday the appointment of National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Chairman retired Admiral Fasih Bokhari on a petition filed by former opposition leader in the National Assembly, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, about 19 months ago.

Admiral Bokhari was the second choice of President Asif Ali Zardari for the constitutional office after the apex court in its March 10, 2011, verdict had declared the appointment of retired Justice Deedar Hussain Shah as illegal, also on Chaudhry Nisar’s petition.

“We struggled in the last parliament for the constitution of an independent accountability commission for across-the-board accountability and fought tooth and nail for this,” said a jubilant Anusha Rehman, who had represented the PML-N in the National Assembly’s Committee on Law and Justice. The committee deliberated upon the controversial National Accountability Commission (NAC) bill for more than four years.

Ms Rehman, a lawyer by profession and who has been notified by the Election Commission as MNA for another term, said her party would continue to work for completing the pending agenda of the last assembly, indicating that the party would now try to bring the new accountability law to parliament as early as possible after getting the SC verdict in its favour.

The bill proposing constitution of the NAC was moved in parliament by the last PPP government, seeking replacement of the Musharraf-era NAB with an independent National Accountability Commission in line with the Charter of Democracy signed by Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto in May 2006 in London. But it became controversial and put on the back burner after certain clauses were opposed by the PML-N.

The proposed law suggests the setting up of a three-member NAC to be headed by a chairman who has been a judge of the Supreme Court or a federal government officer in BPS-22, a deputy chairman who has been a judge of a high court or a federal government officer in BPS-21 and a prosecutor general who is qualified to be appointed as a judge of the Supreme Court.

Legal and political experts are of the opinion that the focus of the incoming PML-N government will now be on setting up of the accountability commission, instead of finding Admiral Bokhari’s replacement because the apex court in its verdict has not set any timeframe for the appointment of new chairman.

The court has ordered the government “to make fresh appointment without further loss of time”.

“Given the stated position of the PML-N, the new government may focus more on pursuing the pending accountability bill in the National Assembly rather than appointing a new NAB chairman,” said Chaudhry Faisal Hussain, a Supreme Court lawyer.

He was of the opinion that after the court’s two verdicts on the same subject, the leader of opposition in the National Assembly had now assumed the role of appointing authority instead of the president – a situation the PML-N government might never like to see being exploited by the PPP.

“Chaudhry Nisar must be a very happy man because he has won again,” said another senior lawyer. He said since the PML-N government would be requiring some time to draft an accountability law and its first priority would be to get the federal budget passed by the new assembly, Nawaz Sharif might have to appoint a new NAB chairman to comply with the court’s order. In that case the PML-N would not like to see the PPP exploiting the same principle of “meaningful consultation”, as laid down in the court’s two verdicts.

“It’s like a game of chess,” said former Supreme Court Bar Association president Tariq Mehmood, explaining that the May 11 elections had only replaced the position of the checkers in the chess board.

Now the seat of opposition leader, earlier held by Chaudhry Nisar, is expected to go to a legislator nominated by the PPP whereas Nawaz Sharif will be holding the office of the prime minister, held by Yousuf Raza Gilani when the appointment of Admiral Bokhari was made.