Will NAB survive or vanish?
Although the government and the opposition have been on the collision course since the very installation of the present setup after the 2018 elections, a new round of tug-of-war between them is about to start during the next few weeks over the selection of the new chairman of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
Incumbent NAB Chairman Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal had been appointed on October 9, 2017 for a non-extendable term of four years after prolonged consultations between then prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi (PML-N) and leader of opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah (PPP).
His term will complete after a few weeks, which means Prime Minister Imran Khan and Mian Shehbaz Sharif will have to select the replacement before that.
But this time the selection will not be an easy task because both the major opposition parties PML-N and PPP are opposed to the very existence of the anti-graft institution because of what they call selective accountability.
After assuming charge the incumbent NAB chairman moved cases against many important leaders of these parties and proudly claimed credit for bringing to courts the stiff-necked leaders nobody dared in the past to touch despite all their corruption and irregularities.
He says that since its inception the NAB recovered Rs 714 billion from the corrupt elements which, in his words, is not a small achievement.
But this very ‘achievement’ has antagonized the main opposition parties’ leaderships.
Former president Asif Ali Zardari while, criticising the National Accountability Bureau, said that either the anti-graft watchdog would function in the country or the economy.
"Both cannot work together," he was quoted as saying back in April 2019.
The NAB has not stopped its campaign against Mr Zardari and his family and has claimed recently that it recovered as many as Rs 33billion from the fake bank accounts of the former president.
In the past he has been proposing that the functions being performed by the NAB should be transferred to the FIA.
Such utterances or allegations make it incumbent on the NAB authorities to clarify their position.
The NAB will be taking a right step by taking the accusers to court.
It should be made clear for good whether the NAB is playing any useful role for the country or is just blackmailing people to recover money from them.
There is no denying the fact that the menace of corruption in all walks of life is growing and there is a dire need for deterrent steps to uproot it. But at the same time it is to be seen whether the NAB is playing the very same role.
Justice (Retd) Javed Iqbal has repeatedly claimed that the institution’s target is to make Pakistan corruption-free.
The matter should be debated at length in both houses of parliament to reach any conclusion.
If NAB’s performance is found to be satisfactory as a result of debate, nobody should raise any finger at it nor attribute motives to the accountability process.
But if it is judged as partisan and selective, it should be disbanded without a second thought.
Remarks made by various courts about the working of the NAB are not favourable at all.
For example, in September last year in a case against Mr Shahid Khaqab Abbasi the Sindh High Court noted that the NAB had filed a reference against him in order to stop him from criticising the PTI-led federal government.
Abbasi is a vocal critic of the government and the intention behind filing a NAB reference against him is to silence him, said a division bench of the SHC in its detailed order on the pre-arrest bail application of Abbasi and former secretary petroleum Arshad Mirza.
Mr Abbasi and Arshad Mirza had approached the SHC for obtaining pre-arrest protective bail in a NAB reference pertaining to appointment of managing director and deputy managing director at the Pakistan State Oil (PSO) – the state-owned oil marketing company – in violation of rules.
The SHC on September 3 granted protective bail to the former premier and the former secretary petroleum.
The order said it cannot be ruled out that NAB filed the reference for political reasons. The reference is filed to silence the former prime minister.
The Supreme Court also noted in the Khawaja brothers case that NAB is taking one-sided actions, the SHC order added.
It said interestingly NAB did not include Nawaz Sharif in reference despite the fact that he was the sitting prime minister when the allegedly illegal appointments were made.
Now the NAB issue has entered a decisive phase.
The decision lies with the prime minister and the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly. Both are expected to rise above their respective parties’ interests.