NAB CHAIRMAN retired justice Javed Iqbal has claimed that his organisation is an unbiased anti white-collar-crime agency and maintains a balance between cases involving the government and the opposition. He mentioned the money-laundering cases involving members of the opposition and the sugar and wheat crises linked to the government as proof of his organisation’s even-handedness. The chairman may have been prompted to issue such a statement in an effort to dispel the impression that NAB has become a tool for the government to persecute the opposition. This perception, unfortunately, reflects the unmistakable reality prevailing in the country. The key problem manifests itself in the genesis of NAB. The organisation was birthed by the former military ruler Gen Pervez Musharraf to go after the opposition with the primary aim of discrediting them in front of the population. If ever NAB had any pretensions about being a genuine anti white-collar-crime agency, they were put to rest when it stopped pursuing those politicians who were needed to support the Musharraf government. With its foundation weakened by expediency and flawed by compromise, NAB was fated to fall short of its mandate. Through the years therefore, NAB could never shed this image of being a convenient handmaiden for the government of the day.
The Broadsheet scandal has erased any doubts, if ever they existed, that NAB suffers not just from a compromised DNA, but also an incompetent one. The shoddy drafting of the Broadsheet contract, the shady hiring of a dubious company and the inept handling of the legal contest with this company, all reflect very poorly on NAB. In the last few years, the organisation’s imbalance has become even more acute. The way that NAB has gone after opposition leaders while ignoring the shady doings inside the government has contributed tremendously towards further tarnishing the image and credibility of the organisation. At the same time, its performance record also stays true to its DNA, with weak investigation and prosecution becoming its hallmark. Even the Supreme Court of Pakistan has admonished NAB for its unenviable track record. So the NAB chairman is on a weak wicket when he claims that his organisation is impartial. No, it is not. NAB is a deeply flawed entity functioning on the basis of an equally flawed law. The only way to reform it is to review its entire legal and political mandate and cleanse not just its body, but its soul.
Published in Dawn, January 26th, 2021