Why the panic in the PML-N camp?

PML-N survives by retreating

PML-N was perfectly alright with the working of NAB so long as it was only looking into PPP’s affairs in Sindh. Now with the Bureau turning its guns on PML-N and Punjab, the entire leadership, including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, has suddenly become very concerned about harassment by NAB.

Commenting on the issue well known political analyst and columnist Yasser Latif Hamdani told DNA that the concern, he felt, was very much that the military leadership was backing NAB in fighting corruption or as PML-N leadership sees it — derailing democracy. However much of this is true remains to be seen. Is the military really propping up NAB to act against PML-N big wigs? If so is it doing it to put the civilian government under pressure?

He added that ultimately nothing good comes out of this. Any mature civilian government should submit itself wholeheartedly to being held accountable. Indeed PML-N should welcome the idea and also insist that accountability should be held starting with them and then expanded across the board to every other organ of government.

But this will not happen. Instead the PML-N government will meekly retreat and cede more powers to the military. NAB will be called off. There will be no accountability and things will proceed as usual. The PML-N government is a government that survives by retreating. This is their most enduring characteristic. All in all the balance of civil military relations will tilt towards the military as a result, said Yasser.

However, political analyst Jalal Hussain thinks that the military has upped the ante in its battle to cleanse Pakistan of extremism. Recent events have given credence to the view that the military believes that terrorism is inextricably linked to corruption and poor governance. The recent ISPR statement that the efficacy of counter-terrorism efforts could be undercut by inadequate support from civilian agencies shows that the military is pressurising civilian institutions to clean up their act.

After the army gave the green signal to NAB to launch a probe against General Kayani’s brother in the DHA scam, it became clear that no one would be spared. With action being taken in Sindh against sitting government figures, it was only a matter of time before NAB with the support of the military turned its guns on Punjab.

Jalal opined that imminent action by the NAB in Punjab ruffled quite a few influential feathers and the prime minister pre-empted any action by the Bureau in Punjab by publicly warning it of consequences if it continued to ‘harass’ government officers. Any action by NAB in Punjab would erode the PML-N’s influence and could lead to souring of civil-military relations.

“The COAS has nothing to lose after having announced that he would not be seeking an extension in his term, and he is going all guns blazing against terrorism and corruption,” said Jalal, adding that things could get quite interesting if NAB and the military shift the focus of their attention to Punjab.

Acclaimed political analyst Mazhar Abbas thinks that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s critical remarks about NAB can not only put him in trouble but also make the Bureau’s job far more difficult in some of the pending inquiries. Does it reflect NAB’s independence or something really cooking up in case a reference is prepared which could put top leaders of the PML-N in trouble?

“Political statements, remarks, and address often land them in deep trouble. Whatever the reason may be, this statement of the PM may not have gone well within the establishment, as on the one hand it has created doubts about government using its influence on supposedly an independent institution and on the other it has made the case of PPP and Sindh government stronger against NAB and FIA and can affect cases of money laundering, terror financing and corruption,” he wrote in his article for The News International.

Mazhar further wrote that it’s our dilemma that in the last 30 years corruption has only been used as an issue but for political victimisation while the political leadership and even non-civilian institutions got more and more corrupt. Four governments were dissolved on the charges of corruption but none of those responsible for sacking them ever held them accountable. It’s time to make the institution independent, transparent and accountable but above political consideration and even “question” PM, politicians, bureaucrats and generals.

Leading lawyer Babar Sattar also raised some serious questions in his weekly Op-ed for The News. Can corruption or abuse of authority be checked in a country where there is compete consensus across its ruling elite that accountability is a great idea so long as it doesn’t arrive at one’s doorstep? Can there be fair, just and across-the-board accountability when our prime minister publicly wags his finger at NAB, threatens to take to task its officials who dare to poke their noses in the ruling party’s backyard and favoured projects and signals to bureaucrats executing such projects to march on as directed without fear of accountability?

The PML-N went into the 2013 general election making fantastic claims about ‘dragging the corrupt through the streets of Pakistan’. Here is part of what the PML-N 2013 Election Manifesto promised on corruption and accountability:

“Corruption has reached record heights in recent years. The PML-N government will adopt a zero tolerance policy for corruption. It will take every measure to ruthlessly stamp out corruption wherever found. An autonomous National Accountability Commission which is administratively, functionally and financially independent, with comprehensive powers to carry out across-the-board accountability of all holders of public offices in a fair, impartial and transparent manner will be established.

“The most effective way to stop corruption is by evolving a transparent and open system for every government department and organisation, combined with a system of incentives for integrity and honesty.

“To reduce opportunities for corruption and also to ensure decisions on merit, existing laws and rules will be amended to withdraw all discretionary powers wherever possible/practical and instead provide for exercise of powers in a fair, transparent and equitable manner.

“To promote a culture of accountability, integrity and transparency, ‘whistle-blower’ protection law (public interest disclosure) will be enacted for providing safeguards to persons who expose corruption, wrongdoing and other illegalities.

“Procurement Laws and Rules will be strengthened, requiring all public sector organisations to publish all tenders and related bidding documents online, post their development/procurement budgets on their websites, along with details of expenditure over one million rupees, enabling any person to ‘follow the money’…”

Babar further writes that having already crossed the halfway mark, where is the PML-N’s National Accountability Commission law and the promised ‘administratively, functionally and financially independent’ body stamping out corruption ‘ruthlessly’? Why has no whistle-blower protection law been adopted in Punjab, Balochistan or the centre where the PML-N rules? What changes have been made in our procurement law to require public sector organisations to place procurement budgets and bids received online to enable the public to ‘follow the money’? Hasn’t lack of transparency been the key concern of all regarding the CPEC?

“Which laws and rules has the PML-N amended in the centre, Punjab or Balochistan to withdraw discretionary powers? Is it not true that the federal government is pushing the Securities and Exchange Commission to amend the Public Sector Companies (Corporate Governance) Rules? These rules adopted in 2013 sensibly regulate the discretion vested in the government in relation to boards of public sector companies. Instead of streamlining discretion further, why is the Sharif government trying to regain blanket powers to appoint and remove board members in public sector entities?” wrote Babar.

“The question isn’t whether or not NAB is doing a good job. (There is general consensus that NAB is riddled with problems: legacy issues, bad ethos, untrained investigators, absence of rules structuring exercise of discretion by NAB, absence of effective checks against abuse of arrest, inquiry and investigation powers etc.) The question is: why has the PM done nothing so far to introduce institutional reforms to either fix NAB or replace it with a credible and functional watchdog? Is his harangue against NAB not a naked attempt to interfere with whatever little administrative and functional autonomy NAB enjoys in practice?”

Hassan Naqvi

The writer is an Islamabad-based senior investigative journalist who covers politics, economy and militancy. He can be reached at: [email protected]; and on Twitter @hassannaqvi5.

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