A BRITISH court’s order to unfreeze two bank accounts of Shehbaz Sharif and his younger son Suleman after the UK’s top anti-corruption body, the National Crime Agency, concluded that there was no evidence of money laundering, fraud and criminal conduct against them has come as a big blow to the government’s ‘accountability drive’ against opposition politicians. The findings of the NCA inquiry, which was launched on a request from NAB’s Asset Recovery Unit, and spanned a period of 17 months across Britain, Pakistan and Dubai, has by implication further discredited the anti-corruption watchdog, and weakened the ongoing money-laundering and corruption cases against the Sharif family at home. After all, NAB has, prima facie, failed to produce and provide the British agency with convincing evidence to back up its allegations of criminal conduct against Mr Sharif and his son that were levelled in the ARU letter that is believed to have led to the NCA probe. While the PTI government’s influential accountability czar Mirza Shahzad Akbar has frantically been trying to undo the damage ever since the decision became public, most remain unimpressed by his rhetoric regarding the matter. His contention that a suspicious banking transaction had triggered the NCA inquiry — which had thoroughly looked into the transactions made by the PML-N leader and his son over the last 20 years — and not an ARU/NAB request is solidly contradicted by the contents of the ARU letter obtained and produced by a London-based Pakistani journalist.

Even though the entire episode has brought nothing but embarrassment to the government, it does provide a chance to the ruling PTI to rethink its controversial accountability campaign, stop indulging in a witch-hunt against its political foes and critics, and build a bipartisan consensus on multiple economic and foreign policy challenges confronting the country, especially in the wake of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan. The government can begin by giving up its plans to amend the law to retain the controversial NAB chairman in his office for yet another four-year term via extension or reappointment. The start of consultations with the opposition to select the outgoing chairman’s successor as required under the existing law should create a favourable environment for future cooperation between PTI and the opposition. But Mr Akbar’s aggressive statements about pursuing corruption cases against critics indicate that the government is not in the mood to move away from its confrontationist political stance. That is not good news for the country and its people.

Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2021

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