NAB on the rampage

Updated 24 Oct 2020

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IT is hardly a coincidence that the National Accountability Bureau has ramped up its efforts against members of the opposition parties in recent days as they go full throttle in their criticism of the PTI government.

Just days after Prime Minister Imran Khan in a fiery speech expressed his frustration with the accountability process and demanded the speedy conclusion of cases, NAB approved a spate of references against PML-N leaders, including Nawaz Sharif, his ex-secretary Fawad Hasan Fawad, former minister Ahsan Iqbal, former foreign secretary Aizaz Chaudhry and former IB chief Aftab Sultan. Not only did this string of references come hot on the heels of the prime minister’s demand, his impassioned public plea to the chief justice of Pakistan that ‘for God’s sake, decide corruption cases early’, too, saw the Supreme Court order all 24 accountability courts to expedite proceedings in corruption references without granting any adjournments to parties.

The prime minister’s directives to accountability bodies reflect a flawed and deeply troubling approach to justice. No doubt, Mr Khan is feeling the heat of the united opposition’s unreserved criticism against him at the back-to-back rallies of the Pakistan Democratic Movement. However, hurling threats at political leaders, vowing to put more pressure on them through fresh cases and cancelling production orders all reek of personal vendetta — a charge made by opposition parties for the last two years against the prime minister.

Since the PTI came to power in 2018, opposition party members have time and again accused the government and its corruption watchdogs of a biased, one-sided and politically motivated witch-hunt. By lashing out at his opponents and threatening stricter and speedier action against them at a public forum, the prime minister is diluting his own claims that these institutions are independent and is strengthening the opposition’s allegations of a targeted campaign.

Moreover, against the backdrop of the accusations made by ex-DG FIA Bashir Memon some weeks earlier, in which he claimed that the prime minister ordered him to prosecute opposition party members without evidence, the entire accountability drive looks deeply personal and reactive. This is a dangerous trend that is sure to backfire, as it negates the very principles of independent, impartial accountability that form the basis of any equitable justice system.

If this targeted approach continues to be the modus operandi of the government and accountability bodies, it will have far-reaching implications for the people’s trust in the justice system. Across the country, there is already a robust public debate taking place about the separation of powers, the independence of institutions and the alleged interference of some entities in processes that are not within their purview. Mr Khan would be well-advised to rethink this policy of an overzealous, compliant accountability body, as it makes a mockery of his claim that NAB and other watchdog bodies are independent institutions functioning without any external influence.

Published in Dawn, October 24th, 2020