With the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) under sharp focus being a decisive player in the current high profile political cases, an overview of where it stands and what lies ahead needs a deeper look. Where it stands is simple.
At the federal level NAB has to prosecute Nawaz Sharif, his family and company, under SC orders. How it proceeds is a big question. Its chairman Qamar Zaman Chaudhry will be retiring in October and the process of appointing a new chairman needs time and a difficult political consensus. NAB has also to decide the fate of 179 mega cases that it submitted to the Supreme Court in late 2016. As of April 2017, according to its website, of the 81 inquiries that were under process 31 were upgraded into investigations, 11 were closed or sent back, six ended with voluntary return of money. Likewise 83 investigations are now on-going and 46 references are under trial in courts. These would be besides the new Panama references ordered by the SC.These 179 cases included some of the biggest political names including Asif Ali Zardari, Nawaz Sharif, Shahbaz Sharif, Yusuf Raza Gilani, Raja Pervez Ashraf, Chauhdry Shujaat Hussain, Ch Pervez Elahi, Mian Mohammed Mansha, HaroonAkhtar and family, NasirSchon (who just bought the Multan cricket team), two ex-NLC generals, Lt Gen (R) Khalid Munir Khan and Lt Gen (R) Muhammad Afzal Muzaffar, besides many other bureaucrats and officials including Manzoor Qadir of China cutting fame who is accused of gobbling up Rs 50 billion.
In Sindh, the NAB is facing a different situation. The PPP government has enforced a law which eliminates federal jurisdiction of NAB. Some legal experts say this is a violation of Article 143 of the Constitution. The Sindh High Court has stayed the application of the new law and a deadlock persists.
In KP, the PTI Government has recently enacted a law that gives the judiciary the right to appoint NAB officials. This has come about after a dispute between the NAB chief and his juniors which almost brought NAB activity to a halt. The PTI government had to face a lot of flak for the situation. A PTI spokesman confirmed the matter has been resolved and the judiciary has now been empowered to appoint all NAB officers. In Punjab and Balochistan NAB has been working without any controversy but the outcome of the NAB issues in the centre, KP and Sindh will determine how NAB laws and actions will be affected in the other provinces. This is where the NAB stands today. What happens in future is more difficult to predict.The Panama case and its proceedings indicated that NAB was tilted towards Nawaz and Co. The NAB chief openly admitted in court he would not open any case and the SC judges admonished him by saying the NAB was a dead organisation. But in the final judgment the SC referred all the Panama cases to the same NAB but under supervision of a judge. That has yet to translate into visible action as the honourable judge has been on vacation. This means that NABâ€™s present structure will have to be drastically changed and its leadership forced to follow the law equitably for all citizens and not through a biased pick and choose method. This is easier said than done. The lead taken by KP to authorize the judiciary is a step in the right direction. The judges will ensure that no partisan person sits in NAB and politicizes the crucial process of accountability.But how this will be possible in the centre and other provinces?When the experiment of appointing a JIT under the direct supervision of the judges produced astounding results in a brief period of time, at least one strong example was set.If the second experiment of proceeding with NAB references, monitored and supervised by a SC judge, produces similar results, another shining precedent will be set.
The Sindh case is already in the high court and will ultimately come to the apex court in Islamabad. It is a complex matter but has to be decided as per the law and the constitution and only the SC can do that.
The political forces, accused of massive corruption, are offering maximum resistance. Earlier in the week, the PML-N leadership announced they would not cooperate with the NAB because they claim the judiciary has already decided to prosecute the leadership and it would be a futile exercise to fight the cases if the judgments have already been written.
Likewise Sindh has gone on an aggressive tangent by legally abolishing the jurisdiction of NAB.
The key objection of all these scared people is why the judiciary is leading the process of accountability, which has become the real national agenda.
The military establishment also considers corruption as the root cause of serious political, economic and security problems, including terrorism, and has thus assured the judiciary of their full support and backing.
This is a reassuring policy.
The political leadership has probably not yet received the message but the fact is that once such a strong position has been taken by the judiciary and the military, it is almost impossible to back off and let the status quo prevail.
While the structure of the NAB cannot be easily changed because of constitutional roadblocks, its working can be easily managed, as recently demonstrated.The SC will thus have to take a firm position and get its verdicts implemented, even if Article 190 of the Constitution has to be invoked time and again.