NAB is again making headlines – but for all the wrong reasons. In an embarrassing few days, various high courts have issued detailed judgments involving senior PML-N leaders: Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Khawaja Asif and Ahsan Iqbal. In all three cases, the courts have held that there is no evidence of financial gain or loss to the national exchequer. In addition, there is no evidence of kickbacks or corruption on the part of any of the three PML-N leaders.
This is not just an embarrassment for NAB but also exposes the anti-corruption narrative of the sitting government. Initiating corruption cases against several PML-N leaders in the last three years, NAB has failed on every single occasion to establish any financial irregularity. If all the judgments given by the various high courts and the Supreme Court in the last three years are reviewed in detail, they point to a negation of the myth created by Imran Khan and aggressively pursued by various institutions including large segments of our media.
No one is condoning corruption, especially by those in high offices. But when the corruption narrative is used mercilessly to hit back at your political opponents, it not only damages the overall credibility of the accountability process but also undermines political stability.
That has been the case in Pakistan since the 1950s and has been used to destabilise the democratic process on several occasions. Apart from other factors, the 1958 military intervention was justified in the name of accountability against corrupt politicians. In 1999, General Musharraf used accountability as one of the main reasons for his intervention. The latest NAB ordinance was the brainchild of Gen Musharraf who used it blatantly to go after the two main political parties – the PML-N and the PPP.
NAB was used to force politicians to change their political loyalties. The creation of the PML-Q (out of the PML-N) and PPP Patriots (out of the PPP) was the direct result of using the draconian NAB laws. NAB cases for those who buckled under the pressure were not only dropped but these people were also facilitated with lucrative positions. But those who refused to be intimidated such as Javed Hashmi, Khawaja Asif, Ahsan Iqbal, Pervez Rashid, late Mushahidullah, Shahid Khaqan and dozens of others, faced cases and jail sentences.
It has been no different in this latest cycle of NAB brutality. And, like in the Musharraf era, the sitting government has been equally responsible. In fact, the present government has used the corruption bogey to go after its political opponents on a permanent basis. And, like it happened during the Musharraf regime, the objective has backfired and failed miserably. The PML-N leadership has not only withstood the brutality but has come out with more resolve than ever before. The party has grown in these years as a mature political party whose workers and leadership are more than conscious about the importance of their role in establishing a true democratic order – in line with the constitution and the wishes of the founding fathers.
The current accountability process has not just gone against former public office-holders, but also those who have never held any public office and that too a woman politician. Maryam Nawaz has emerged as the biggest political challenge to the current government and its governance system. As such, she has not been spared. Multiple cases have been filed against her by NAB without even referring to one incidence of corruption, kickback or commission. When there is no such charge, why was she kept in jail on two different occasions in the last three years? Each time, she has come out stronger, courageous and more committed to upholding civilian supremacy.
The three judgments in the cases involving Shahid Khaqan, Khawaja Asif and Ahsan Iqbal provide interesting reading as to how NAB has exceeded its jurisdiction to punish political opponents of the present regime. Indeed, the Supreme Court held that NAB is involved in ‘political engineering’ – possibly the worst indictment against NAB as well as the sitting government. In its judgment in favour of Shahbaz Sharif, the Supreme Court held that they have found no evidence of corruption, bluntly asking NAB: where is the corruption in this case.
Even in the disputed judgment given by late Judge Arshad Malik, the court held that there was no evidence of corruption. The judgment also said that no link could be established by NAB regarding Mian Nawaz Sharif and the famous London flats. In fact, the former prime minister has not been indicted by any court for corruption, kickbacks, tax evasion, money laundering, misuse of public office or any other financial irregularity.
No institution in the country is above the law, and NAB is no exception. No law gives NAB unlimited powers to intimidate and arrest political opponents.
Having failed to get any conviction, the ruling party and many in the media have blamed the prosecution for its failure to present the cases in an effective manner. But what can the prosecution do when they don’t have a case but are forced to pursue cases purely on political grounds? Nothing more funny – or rather tragic – than to see this prosecution facing the wrath of the judges.
It’s not just the political opposition which has suffered at the hands of NAB but the accountability bureau’s draconian agenda has driven other stakeholders to the edge too, including the business community and bureaucracy. Businesses are not ready to invest in such conditions while bureaucrats are reluctant to take any initiative to avoid future NAB references.
We all want NAB to succeed in curbing corruption – but in its present form, especially with the PTI government bent upon intimidating its political opponents, the chances of its success are extremely remote.
The writer is the spokesperson for Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz, and former governor Sindh.