FOR the last few years, opposition parties in the country have been crying themselves hoarse over a blatantly one-sided, politically motivated witch-hunt at the hands of the anti-graft authorities. Dubbed an ‘accountability drive’, the pattern followed in hounding opponents has become increasingly predictable. Politicians critical of the government are investigated by the FIA and NAB, booked in cases —the key charges being the misuse of authority or having assets beyond known sources of income — and promptly arrested. They then languish in custody as the authorities conduct their investigations, for months on end, before there is a formal indictment and the case begins. The current drive follows Imran Khan’s campaign pledges in the 2018 election, when he vowed to jail ‘corrupt people’ who had ‘amassed billions overseas’. But two years later, and especially after this week’s on-record revelation by recently retired FIA director general Bashir Memon, this accountability drive is looking more and more like a vendetta. Mr Memon in a video interview accused Prime Minister Imran Khan of pressuring him to prosecute opposition leaders on serious charges “though there was no evidence to do so”. He also said that Mr Khan wanted senior opposition leader Khawaja Asif to be tried for treason under Article 6 of the Constitution, and several members of the Sharif family to be booked in corruption cases. Shockingly, he gave the impression that the NAB chairman was accommodating similar requests by the government, and had pursued cases that Mr Memon had protested against. Despite the passage of a few days since his claims, no official clarification has been issued by the government.

His statement lends credence to something the opposition parties have been saying for months: that the ongoing accountability drive is a venomous campaign masquerading as a quest for justice. Though Mr Memon’s allegations have come a little late in the day, the courts handling many of these FIA and NAB cases ought to take into account that there may be something more to them — not just in the case of the Sharif family but all individuals targeted in this drive. Not only must the government issue an immediate response to his statements to explain what happened, it must also reflect on the serious and long-lasting damage such a calculated campaign can have on the public’s trust in the system as well as the injustice towards those caught in the accountability net on trumped-up allegations.

Published in Dawn, October 9th, 2020

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