ISLAMABAD: Tension ruled the Senate on the first day of year 2021 with senators from the two sides of the aisle locking horns over the issue of performance of the anti-corruption watchdog and process of accountability.
During a debate on the performance of the National Accountability bureau (NAB), the opposition members rejected the process of accountability as one-sided and accused the government of using it for witch-hunt of its opponents. Members from the treasury benches responded by saying the opposition was trying to exert pressure on the government to force it to stop pursuing corruption cases against its leaders, who had amassed wealth through commissions and kickbacks, laundered money and stashed it in banks abroad.
Some opposition senators alleged that the NAB chairman was being blackmailed to target the opposition after the leak of his “immoral audio and video clips” and he was now compelled to obey all orders “he receives through WhatsApp”.
Govt accused of using bureau for opponents’ ‘witch hunt’; opposition wants to avoid corruption cases, treasury members respond
The senators from the government side chided the leaders of two major opposition parties. They alleged that Maryam Nawaz and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari were struggling to save their fathers and not waging a struggle for democracy or the country.
JUI-F leader Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri said NAB had become a tool in the hands of the government to victimise the opposition. “This is why Maulana Fazlur Rehman has said he will not appear before the bureau.”
Maulana Haideri said when the government was criticised for any wrongdoing, they said the army was with them. “You cannot run the government by hiding behind the army and continuously telling lies. Why do you defame the army by dragging it in politics?” he said.
Senator Javed Abbasi of the PML-N said the government had turned NAB into a “PTI wing”.
He said the parliament was supreme and had to play a role in checking violation of human rights guaranteed in the constitution by any institution.
He said there were several judgements of the Supreme Court that highlighted the role of NAB in political engineering and forcing politicians to change their loyalty.
Mr Abbasi slammed NAB for the arrest of PML-N leader Khawaja Asif and said the bureau had failed to prove any case of assets beyond means.
He said the parliament was being rendered irrelevant and warned that if the parliament failed to act, the rulers of today would have to face what the opposition was experiencing today.
He objected to the law which provided for 90-day remand of an accused and admitted that it was a mistake not to revisit the accountability law when the PML-N was in power.
He said an institution for accountability was a sine qua non for strong democracy but the process had to be transparent.
Referring to flour, sugar and drugs scams, the PML-N senator asked why no action had been taken against those responsible for the scams. “Where are the inquiry reports?”
He warned that the country would be heading into a blind alley if this approach was not changed.
Speaking next, Communication Minister Murad Saeed took exception to the remarks made by Mr Abbasi saying he was threatening that the PML-N would act against the PTI leadership if the former came to power.
He said the previous governments had not only used the anti-accountability watchdog to victimise the opposition, but also to defend their corruption.
Mr Saeed said the Panama Papers had not been released by NAB. He said there was a BBC documentary on the Sharif family’s London properties and the New York Times had also published a report on Park Lane property of the family.
Turning his guns towards former president Asif Ali Zardari, he said fake accounts case had not been filed by Imran Khan. He said a report published in New York Times on Jan 9, 1998 had mentioned Surrey Mansion. He said there was a time when an individual was called “Mr five per cent” by international media. “When he became investment minister, funds meant for Sindh’s development went into his account and then were transferred abroad”, he said.
Usman Kakar of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party said all decisions of an unconstitutional government were unconstitutional. He claimed that over a dozen people had been killed in NAB custody and said more than a week was required for a discussion on “black deeds” of the bureau.
He demanded investigations into the assets of all generals involved in Afghan war, including Ziaul Haq, Akhtar Abdul Rehman and Hameed Gul, as well as Colonel Imam. Likewise, he said the assets of officers who had served in conflict zones -- erstwhile Fata and Balochistan -- should also be probed. He said the assets of former army chiefs Gen Pervez Musharraf and Raheel Sharif, former Inter-Services Intelligence chief Gen Ahmad Shuja Pasha and former chief justice Saqib Nisar should also be investigated.
Mr Kakar said the Pakistan Democratic Movement would not only compel the government to resign but would also force the establishment to accept the parliament’s supremacy. “In the future, no one will be able to come to power by using the clutches of intelligence agencies,” he remarked.
He called for enactment of a law for across-the-board accountability of all, including politicians, judges, generals and bureaucrats, and said the PTI government could not dare do so.
Senator Kabir Mohammad Shahi also accused NAB of indulging in unprecedented political victimisation. He advised the NAB chairman to resign instead of being blackmailed.
Senator Mohsin Aziz said the people had rejected the opposition’s narrative and the “drama of resignations” had also failed.
Published in Dawn, January 2nd, 2021