NAB-bureaucracy war

25 Feb 2018

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THE provincial and federal bureaucracies are deeply flawed, ineffective and widely perceived to be corrupt. Members of the bureaucracy, however, are entitled to due process and fair treatment. While some bureaucrats have eagerly courted political masters and sought favours from the permanent state, there are a number of competent, professional and honourable bureaucrats serving Pakistan today. If a great deal of the bureaucracy is politicised, attacks against it that also appear to be of a political nature cannot be condoned. The arrest of Ahad Cheema, a former director general of the Lahore Development Authority, by the National Accountability Bureau for involvement in an alleged housing scheme scam does not pass the smell test. Prima facie, the arrest by NAB of Mr Cheema is excessive and appears to be part of a deepening war against the PML-N by sections of the permanent state. It is possible that NAB has amassed significant evidence that will hold up in a court of law against Mr Cheema. But lopsidedness in NAB’s anti-corruption drive threatens to politicise the accountability bureau and colour the public’s perception of a much-needed drive against wrongdoing in the state apparatus. Certainly, NAB must fearlessly tread wherever it needs to fight corruption; the question is, why is it relentlessly advancing in mostly one direction?

The strong reaction by the Punjab bureaucracy to Mr Cheema’s arrest also illustrates why even the perception of politicisation of the accountability is a disservice to not just those caught up in the scandal but the wider public as well. While some bureaucrats may have protested for valid reasons, others may have been encouraged to do so by the PML-N government in Punjab or simply to put pressure on NAB to roll back its recent anti-corruption drive. From the outside, it is impossible to know who in the bureaucracy is protesting against NAB for good reasons and who for bad reasons. The fierce reaction of the PML-N leadership, both at the provincial level and at the centre, to Mr Cheema’s arrest perhaps shows both that the arrest is politically motivated and that there may be some truth to the allegations. With a general election on the horizon and the PML-N locked in conflict with state institutions, there is no obvious path to de-escalation in the NAB-bureaucracy clash that has erupted. Perhaps the senior leadership of the bureaucracy can counsel restraint and advise a sensible course of action.

Published in Dawn, February 25th, 2018