Will Imran Khan, Shehbaz have to share the negotiating table?
Will the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) survive or become history after its incumbent chairman Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal serves out his non-extendable four-year constitutional term on October 10 (2021)?
Will the accountability process, accelerated by this chairman after the retirement of his predecessor Qamar Zaman Chaudhry be able to maintain its pace or lose steam and is among “neither dead nor alive”?
Answers to these questions depend upon the government-opposition relations and the ruling PTI’s ability to not compromise its stance on accountability of the corrupt and its ability to take the opposition along.
Under the Constitution, the NAB chairman is appointed by the prime minister in consultation with the leader of the opposition.
The two are poles apart as far as the role of the NAB is concerned.
The NAB has recovered more than Rs714 billion since its establishment two decades ago, and the prime minister wants it to be more active to make the country a corruption-free society. For this purpose he is in no mood to make any compromise at any cost.
On the other hand, the PML-N, PPP and JUI-F are opposed to the very existence of the anti-graft institution. They call the NAB a tool in the hands of the prime minister being used to victimize the opposition leaders.
Many a time they called the NAB a hurdle to industrialization, investment in various sectors. Facing a number of cases because of which Shehbaz Sharif and his son Hamza even experienced NAB jails, various leaders said the country and the anti-graft entity can’t co-exist.
Leaders of these parties called for the disbandment of NAB and its role transferred to the FIA.
Interestingly, both the PPP and the PML-N took no such step when they were in power for five years each after the end of the nine-year Gen Musharraf era.
It was then prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and then opposition leader Khursheed Shah who had ‘discovered’ Justice Javed Iqbal.
Syed Khursheed Shah had then said that Javed Iqbal has a very good reputation and had performed well as head of the Abbottabad Commission.
But both these parties, and many others, turned against the NAB as well as its chairman.
During the incumbency of Justice Javed Iqbal, both Shahid Khaqan and Khursheed Shah are facing NAB cases.
It is in this situation that the government and the opposition leader have to agree to a man who could head the NAB for the next four years.
It is hard to predict the likely situation if Shehbaz Sharif did not agree to the name proposed by the prime minister and insisted on the winding up of the anti-graft institution.
Apparently, Shehbaz Sharif will do his best to create a crisis on this issue. He will either not agree to any name for the slot or, using his negotiating skills as an industrialist, try to extort maximum benefits/concessions in lieu of his nod.
As for as Justice Javed Iqbal’s opinion, he strongly denies allegations of bias and excesses. He is of the firm view that closing down the NAB will only benefit the elite.
According to him, NAB has always been the subject of a "nefarious propaganda" and allegations. He thinks that the basic reason for that is that people hadn't imagined even in their dreams that someone could ask them [about their wealth].
"My personal interest and that of NAB is only with Pakistan," he argues.
"Closing down NAB will only benefit the elite or those millionaires who wanted to become billionaires but incidentally due to NAB that dream couldn't be fulfilled."
Whatever the claims of Justice Javed Iqbal, there is no decline in corruption despite the recovery of Rs714 billion from the corrupt elements. Also, his failure to take countless corruption cases against important leaders to their logical conclusion will be hard for his successor to defend.
Victimization claims made by various leaders along with their assertions that the NAB could not prove corruption of a single penny despite long investigations and imprisonment will help these leaders politically in the next elections.