Accountability — A far cry

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Zaheer Bhatti

THAT 3550 Pakistanis own properties worth 3.5 trillion US Dollars abroad includes scores of billionaires among whom only the Sharif Family has been targeted so far and convicted for the wrong reasons, while the Accountability Bureau and Federal Investigation Agency have failed to spread their net to book offenders indiscriminately, is the sum total of the entire accountability effort. The surge and search so far has only targeted political adversaries and major probes are being pre-empted and shoved under the carpet for political expediency as done in the past, which makes it another exercise in futility besides wasting a lot of Govt time and money further eating into scarce State funds.
Not too distant in the past, Asif Ali Zardari from whom his wife had distanced herself politically on account of his exploitation of her office as the country’s Prime Minister, was booked and asked to justify his rags to riches of Surrey Palace in England, the French Riviera Resorts, and the 60 billion US Dollars stashed in his Swiss Bank accounts besides other properties, the prosecution leaving several loopholes whereby the accused benefitting from the 10-year trial ‘in more congenial judicial and political environments’ getting adjournments into eternity was not only acquitted but eventually became the President of the country enjoying immunity against any misdemeanour of the past. No one talks of those properties any longer whose ownership had been initially denied by the family and reportedly sold later.
For some years now, cases of grave wrong-doings were brought to light against Dr. Asim and Sharjeel Memon of the PPP who were arrested amid media glare, while stacks of Pakistani currency were recovered from a Baluchistan high up’s house besides the infamous TV model Ayaan Ali’s detention while attempting to smuggle millions worth of foreign currency out of the country who for months was paraded in the courts to no effect except media marketing of a variety of outfits she adorned in her various hearings, until she was eventually granted bail to only re-surface in the current multi-billion dollar money-laundering scam also involving Asif Ali Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur. This being a sample but a lot more including some PTI stalwarts about whom one hears of no formal prosecution leave alone conviction. Much worse, the present Government despite claiming it stood neutral over NAB accountability, its Cabinet brigade was doing everything to prove otherwise continuing to forecast more arrests by NAB mainly from amongst the ranks of its main adversary the PML(N). Nawaz Sharif and his family as scores of others in the business community may well have benefitted from the various periodical SRO’s ostensibly designed to regulate business in the country yet providing loopholes and escape routes, but one thing is clear that despite the head-over-heels efforts by the prosecution as well as the NAB, there has been no evidence of corruption against him or his family as declared by the Accountability Court Judge while handing down conviction in his highly questionable judgment; the sentence having been suspended by the High Court.
This has been followed by the arrest of his younger brother Shehbaz Sharif by NAB; again for no charge of financial corruption but for his alleged favouring of some business entrepreneurs in a bidding process. Shehbaz Sharif who despite being known to be a clean person and middle-of-the-road politician, and unlike his brother adopting a conciliatory role in national affairs, was ironically as Leader of the Opposition in Parliament summoned by NAB in a water purification scam but arrested on account of his alleged involvement in the ‘Ashiyana’ Housing Scheme, while his very vocal Party man Saad Rafiq and his brother were refused protective bail at the heels of the by-polls over which Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League had a lot at stake; particularly Saad Rafiq who had a point to prove which he eventually did. But besides the PML(N), other parties or persons though served notices were clearly being treated differently, simply because NAB had POTA-like powers of arrest and detention up to 90 days without having to justify their act.
This has made the present Chief an unbridled horse accountable to none as opposed to his predecessor who was a compliant lame duck, which calls for serious and urgent intervention by Parliament to make NAB more rational while preserving its independence. It is atrocious that you put to dust the reputation of revered citizens; handcuffing Vice Chancellors or anyone you wish leaving them no recourse to redeem their honour if charges against them are not proved, which has mostly been the case so far. It was also time to revisit the mandate of Chairman NAB and redefine if he was to specifically nail down corruption or was he also empowered to probe and question mis-governance by Parliamentarians, which should be the preserve of Parliament.
While one admires Chief Justice Saqib Nisar for his social initiatives besides his recent plain talk with the higher Judiciary, one wonders if nearing the end of his term in office he would one day dispassionately revisit the obtaining scenario in the country and introspect over Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification by the Bench of the Apex Court chaired by him, and Nawaz Sharif’s eventual weak conviction by an Accountability Court. This is notwithstanding the fact that Nawaz Sharif had many flaws in his conduct over matters of the State including accumulation of a colossal debt burden without building capacity to retire it, absence of a pro-active Foreign Policy and his inability to work in concert with key State institutions including the Judiciary and the Armed Forces. In addition to all this, he was extremely high strung and self-possessed about his supremacy as the Prime Minister and that of Parliament in State affairs without giving evidence of drawing respect for that position or doing anything to uphold supremacy of Parliament through his conduct, which should actually have been the reasons for his downfall.
—The writer is a media professional, member of Pioneering team of PTV and a veteran ex Director Programmes.

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