NAB’s tactics

Updated November 26, 2018

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ONCE again, there have been complaints by the opposition in parliament that the National Accountability Bureau is using harsh tactics against individuals in its custody and under investigation — and once again the complaints have been rejected by NAB and downplayed by the treasury benches.

The allegations by senior PML-N leaders in parliament that NAB is using heavy-handed, police-like tactics and torture against individuals in its custody is troubling and ought to be transparently investigated.

While the PML-N and other opposition parties have an incentive to exaggerate their claims in order to bring NAB into further disrepute and cast a shadow over ongoing accountability inquiries, the allegations made in parliament on Friday are specific and can be authentically proved true or refuted — if a fair and transparent inquiry is held.

Strong denials by NAB and the government will not suffice at this stage, and both NAB and the ruling setup ought to keep in mind that the political onus is on the state to demonstrate that it is abiding by the rules and not mistreating individuals in custody.

Indeed, because the opposition may be seeking to discredit the accountability process itself, NAB and the federal government ought to go the extra mile and re-establish the credibility of the accountability body.

What doomed the accountability exercise in previous eras was a strong public perception that it was used as a political weapon, as well as the failure to ensure due process.

If evidence or a confession is obtained under duress from a suspect in custody, a conviction by a trial court is almost inevitably overturned on appeal. NAB authorities are surely aware of the history and potential for a vigorous accountability process to be derailed on political grounds.

Yet, the accountability body appears heedless of the risks. Unhappily, the PTI-led federal government, too, appears to lack an understanding that the only effective and sustainable accountability exercise is one that fully ensures due process.

The PML-N’s calls for a parliamentary inquiry into the mistreatment of its leaders in custody may be rebuffed by the government, but even independent legal analysts have questioned the need or lawfulness of NAB’s more severe tactics.

Moreover, the Supreme Court itself has repeatedly called on NAB to exercise caution and better judgement in pursuing corruption allegations. If NAB fails to heed sensible advice, it may find that even its legitimate successes will be called into question.

Published in Dawn, November 26th, 2018