Double down

Published February 1, 2024

TWO verdicts in two days. A 14-year sentence for ‘corruption’ to accompany a 10-year sentence for ‘divulging state secrets’. First, his top lieutenant, and now his spouse also convicted and jailed.

And still, former prime minister Imran Khan’s troubles are far from over. What new depths will the state plumb as it makes clear its antipathy towards him?

The days leading up to the Feb 8 elections may hold more ‘surprises’. For now, we may only sit and spectate as facts, procedures, laws and institutions bend to the will of those who think that no elected leader deserves a free pass — until they decide they do.

Mr Khan and his wife, Bushra Bibi, have been convicted for under-declaring the value of a jewellery set they received as a gift while the former was still in office. The verdict has been delivered via an accountability court judge who, just days before the last general election, had also convicted this year’s front-runners in the Avenfield reference.

That judgement was overturned in November last year. Most commentators believe this one will not last too long, either. Incidentally — or perhaps by design — the same judge is also supposed to hear a similar case involving items retained from the state’s gift repository. The matter involves several cars allegedly retained by Messrs Nawaz Sharif, Yousuf Raza Gilani and Asif Ali Zardari in violation of Toshakhana rules.

However, given how completely the judge’s attention and energies have been devoted over the past month to delivering the ‘accountability’ brand of justice to Mr Khan and his spouse, he seems to have had very little time to spare for any other of the matters pending before him. He retires soon, in March, after 11 years in NAB’s accountability courts. Most accountability judges are appointed for three. During that extended tenure, he has judged four former prime ministers, all brought before him when their free passes ran out.

A word, too, on NAB, an institution that seems to exist only to cycle through political targets based on the whims of the powers that be.

The bureau has gained notoriety over the years for swooping in, guns blazing, when a politician’s free pass has been revoked. It digs up all manner of ‘corruption’ cases against the targeted politician, effectively drowning them under a wave of litigation.

Sometimes, a conviction or two is secured through legal proceedings based on weak evidence and conducted without regard for due process. Unsurprisingly, most cases and convictions collapse within a few years, and those once accused of serious malfeasance eventually return as political martyrs.

It is a rinse-and-repeat cycle that has gradually deprived the idea of accountability of any legitimacy whatsoever. As this latest conviction shows, nothing seems about to change.

Published in Dawn, February 1st, 2024

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