Witch-hunt continues

30 Mar 2020

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AT a time when the entire world, including Pakistan, is struggling to cope with the coronavirus epidemic that is playing havoc with the lives of the people, an accountability court has gone ahead and issued non-bailable warrants for former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s arrest. These warrants have been issued in a fresh reference filed by the National Accountability Bureau pertaining to the alleged illegal appointment of the managing director and deputy managing director of Pakistan State Oil. The judge of the accountability court has ordered NAB to arrest Mr Abbasi and produce him before the court on April 10.

NAB had originally arrested Mr Abbasi in July last year in the case pertaining to setting up an LNG terminal. Later, former finance minister Miftah Ismail was also arrested in the same case, and both spent the rest of the year behind bars. However, NAB failed to produce any evidence that could implicate Mr Abbasi and Mr Ismail in the case and ultimately the court allowed them bail, saying NAB could come up with no justifiable reason to hold them in custody. Since then, the former prime minister has repeatedly said on record that NAB investigators had very little idea of the case they had built against him, and, in fact, the way that NAB officials questioned him a few times in prison bordered on the infantile — so clueless were the investigators about the technicalities of LNG terminals. Mr Ismail has also expressed similar views about the woeful lack of capacity of NAB investigators to understand the complex dynamics of this sector. The court, too, expressed similar sentiments about the dismal performance of NAB and allowed Mr Abbasi and Mr Ismail their freedom. However, it is a matter of deep concern that despite this severe lack of substantive evidence, NAB has gone ahead and filed another reference against the former prime minister and acquired an arrest warrant for him. What reason is there for Mr Abbasi to be incarcerated yet again, after he has already spent so many months in prison without NAB having anything to show for it? If NAB really wants to pursue this case of appointment of two officials, it can always ask Mr Abbasi to present himself for questioning. However, it appears the dragnet around Mr Abbasi is more of a political nature. NAB continues to hack away at its own credibility through such ill-advised actions.

Published in Dawn, March 30th, 2020