- A bull in a china shop
Over the past two and a half years there has been an aggressive and consistent deterioration in the reputation and running of the country’s premier accountability watchdog, NAB. Established by former military dictator General Pervez Musharraf in 1999, the foundation of the institution from the outset was problematic, for it was set up solely to silence his political opponents who were unwilling to bend over backwards to accommodate his ‘vision for the country’. Subsequent civilian governments of the PPP and the PML(N) did not attempt to right that wrong and instead used NAB against each other as well, making full use of its unbridled powers to punish opposition politicians while in government. Since becoming Prime Minister, Imran Khan has accelerated this practice under the assumption that it is exactly what his base voted him in power for: to put the likes of Nawaz Sharif and Zardari behind bars until they cough up all of that ‘looted wealth’ allegedly ‘stashed abroad’. His voters quickly realized however that ‘going after the corrupt’ does not in fact put food on their table, rather stable jobs and a better economy do. As far as repatriation of wealth is concerned, not a dime has been credited to state coffers so far. NAB meanwhile has gone off the rails, making arrests willy-nilly without the necessary evidence to effectively prosecute and get convictions and as a result, politicians, bureaucrats, businessmen and media owners have been put behind bars for months on end only to be released after cases against them lead to no meaningful conclusion meriting sentencing.
Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif is back in jail for a second time and on Tuesday was sent on judicial remand after NAB’s request for extending his physical remand was denied by an accountability court. Usually, going by timelines of recent cases, the next step will be granting of bail, until a new case will be formulated or an older one revived and the cycle will repeat itself. Observations by the Supreme Court over the unchecked powers of arresting an individual, calling it a violation of basic human rights, have fallen on deaf ears as the government continues to up the ante. Until the NAB Ordinance 1999 is amended, there will be no letup in the misuse of this draconian law. However, for that, the government, opposition and the powers that be must meet somewhere in the middle. As things stand, reaching such a consensus is currently impossible.