Pakistan’s political history is rife with examples of governments and dictatorships using state institutions to victimize opponents and those who are unwilling to fall into line. Prior to the PTI establishing itself as a prominent political party, it was the PML-N and PPP who took turns at charging each other with corruption and vigorously pursuing cases when either party came to power. But those witch-hunts have nothing on how the PTI through National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has targeted opposition parties, to the extent that it seems like Prime Minister Imran Khan has a personal score to settle with veteran politicians and party leaders like Mian Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari. Numerous cases have been opened by the NAB solely against opposition politicians followed by the latter doing one or multiple stints behind bars for at least ninety-days, if not more, while only at the preliminary stage of investigation. This is exactly why the Supreme Court, in its judgment on the Khwaja Saad Rafique case made some damning observations about NAB’s procedures and conduct, calling its practice of ‘arresting before charging’ a human rights violation. Much of the money NAB ‘recovers’ is through plea bargains, which is the result of an accused being incarcerated in the worst of facilities, tortured mentally and ridiculed publically to the extent that paying for one’s freedom is the only way out. This is not to say that some of those who do settle aren’t guilty of corruption but then there are cases such as ex-CDA official Brig (R) Asad Munir’s and Accountant General (AG) Khurram Hamayun’s, who committed suicide after being hounded by NAB for years.
Recently, Deputy Chairman Senate Salim Mandviwalla, who himself is under investigation by the NAB, called out the accountability watchdog for its relentless harassment of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen and that the institution should first hold its own officials accountable. This has seemingly forced NAB chairman retired justice Javed Iqbal to issue a statement stating that NAB is ‘an unbiased anti-white collar crime agency, maintaining a balance between cases involving the ruling alliance and the opposition’. Unfortunately he has failed to back up this statement up with any proof or action as none of the many pending investigations against the ruling party have progressed similar to how cases against the opposition have. Unless that happens, any claims of impartiality are pure fiction.