PRIME MINISTER Imran Khan is only partly correct in his assertion that the revelations by the UK-based firm, Broadsheet LLC, expose the “massive scale of our ruling elite’s corruption and money laundering”. The interview given by the company’s owner, Kaveh Moussavi, to a YouTube news channel also reveals the sham that has been the exercise of accountability in Pakistan. Mr Moussavi has made a number of assertions in his interview.
Among these is that an individual purporting to be former premier Nawaz Sharif’s nephew offered Broadsheet a $25m bribe to drop the probe into the Sharif family’s assets. Mr Moussavi also claimed to possess proof of corruption against a number of other Pakistanis. Mr Khan has formed an inter-ministerial committee to look into the matter and make the names of the individuals public.
Whatever the merits of Mr Moussavi’s claims, and some of them seem scarcely credible, he certainly appears to be a publicity seeker. Otherwise why stir the pot after so long? After all, it was back in 2000 that Broadsheet was hired by Gen Musharraf’s government to work with the newly set up NAB to track down Pakistanis’ ill-gotten wealth stashed overseas; the contract was terminated in 2003. Perhaps he is also hoping for a similar arrangement with the PTI government.
Certainly, probing white-collar corruption and money laundering is a laudable aim. Done with integrity, it strengthens institutions, improves governance and bolsters the citizens’ faith in the justice system. But when accountability is done selectively, giving some the benefit of the doubt while proceeding full throttle against others on thin evidence, if any at all, it corrodes the system still further. That unfortunately is the kind of ‘accountability’ we have been witness to in Pakistan for decades.
It is this country’s misfortune that, under NAB, accountability has become a handmaiden to political expediency and short-term gains. Among Mr Moussavi’s claims, the least startling are the ones about how NAB dropped investigations into high-profile corruption suspects after deals were struck with them, or took them off its list of ‘targets’ if those individuals came back into political favour. For, despite all the clamour in the lead-up to the 2018 election about bringing the corrupt to book, accountability under the PTI appears a lot like it did before — a political witch-hunt. Some credible exposés have oddly enough not even merited an inquiry by NAB.
No less than the Supreme Court has assailed the organisation for its blatantly biased approach, noting that it “seems reluctant in proceeding against people on one side of the political divide even in respect of financial scams of massive proportion while those on the other side are being arrested and incarcerated for months and years without providing any sufficient cause”. Despite this, NAB continues as before, trampling on constitutional rights without any apparent fear of itself being held to account.
Published in Dawn, January 14th, 2021