While the odd problems about corruption did exist in Pakistan’s National Accountability Bureau before Munir Hafeez as Chairman NAB institutionalized the “sharing of the loot” by making “plea bargain” into a very lucrative art, it was really Asif Zardari as President of Pakistan who made NAB virtually ineffective, all within the ambit of the Constitution. Pliant NAB Chairmen were brought in, no surprise that without effective prosecution many court cases against him were conveniently dismissed “for lack of evidence”. Simultaneously several cases against his new found crony, real estate tycoon Malik Riaz, were dropped overnight, Pakistan had constitutionally become a “gangster heaven”. NAB senior personnel who objected were either dismissed or sidelined. NAB’s “accountability image” was restored to some extent by Qamarzaman Chaudhry as Chairman but when it came to the Sharifs even Qamar faltered. Disparate attempts made to derail NAB’s mission and threats to ‘clip NAB’s wings’ suggests that even with all its shortcomings and outside interference, NAB as an institution has been on the right track.
Hearing a suo moto case against illegal appointments in NAB, the Supreme Court (SC) in March 2017 ordered the de-notification of four NAB Director Generals (DGs). The reason given for de-notifying them was “they did not have required educational qualification at the time of their induction in the NAB”. The first three were not volunteers but army majors ordered to serve NAB. They were later given the option in 2003 to stay or go back, many sacrificed their complete Armed Forces Career and benefits including pension, commutation of pension, medical cover from CMHs, a house on retirement and plots under the welfare policy. Their motivation was the spirit of a “Jehad” against corruption. Their average 10-13 years of Military service on joining NAB included personnel management, the conduct of inquiries and investigations, administration, training and conducting operations. Their Captain-to-Major Promotion Examinations included passing “Military Law” requiring thorough understanding of Manual of Pakistan Military Laws (MPML) but also Qanoon-e-Shahadat (Evidence Act) and Hadood Ordinance, Recording of “Summary of Evidence” and “Conduct of Enquiry and Investigations” were a substantive part of this examination, in both theory as well as practical. Most had qualified Intelligence Course from “School of Military intelligence” (SMI) Murree, which imparts in-depth knowledge and skills in the interrogation of suspects, the conduct of discreet inquiries, forensic recognition of handwriting, collection, processing, and analysis of evidence/information. On the basis of their matching qualification, the experience of four years’ service in NAB and relevant expertise they were later absorbed in NAB service purely on merit in accordance with the law.
These extremely talented and officers of proven quality were targetted and removed because someone somewhere was unhappy with their investigation skills and success thereof in holding the corrupt available.. What better way to defang NAB but to get rid of those who perform? While it was certainly according to the rules of law, in giving such a draconian decision the Honourable Judges could have taken into account the grey areas of exigency in the circumstances of their appointments and their subsequent performance. These could have been condoned in the interests of the country, reasonable doubt going in favor of the removed officers.
The ganging up of political forces to escape accountability and the allegations against NAB should be of no surprise to anyone. To set the record straight requires us to analyze the performances since 2013. With Punjab the eye of the anti-corruption storm, let us look at its statistics. The average number of inquiries authorized by DG Husnain Ahmed (2013-2015) was 196 per year while Syed Burhan Ali (2013-2015), one of the officers removed by the SC verdict, averaged 210 per year out of which 208 inquiries were disposed of. His successor DG Shahzad Saleem (2017 till date) averaged 200 of which 198 inquiries were disposed of. References filed by Husnain averaged 36 per year while Burhan averaged 46 of which 13 were decided while Shahzad filed 50 References out of which 23 were decided per year. Husnain issued 125 arrest warrants per year with 69 executed while Burhan issued 154 arrest warrants with 121 executed successfully. Shahzad issued 414 arrest warrants with 170 executed successfully. Husnain recovered Rs. 1124 million per year, Burhan Rs. 675 million while Shahzad recovered Rs. 4140 million per year on average. Not figments of imagination, these official statistics exist as an excellent indicator of NAB accomplishments in Punjab.
A hue and cry were raised by vested interest in govt when NAB arrested former DG Lahore Development Authority (LDA) Ahad Khan Cheema in Feb this year. Decrying the move as “illegal”, officers belonging to the former District Management Group (DMG) locked down their offices in a pen-down protest, they threatened and alternately cajoled their PAS and PMS colleagues to join them. The blessings of the ruling PML(N) govt, was confirmed when the Punjab Provincial Assembly (PA) adopted a Resolution condemning NAB for ‘harassing and humiliating’ govt officials. The Resolution was an attempt to curtail or reduce NAB’s power. Even Chief Justice (CJ) Mian Saqib Nisar was displeased, telling Punjab Chief Secretary Zahid Saeed during a hearing, “Tell your political bosses to get another resolution passed against the SC as it summons you (bureaucrats)”. The Resolution amply highlights how the Constitution is used by the PML(N) to blindly defend any and all corrupt actions by its members/affiliates. Earlier PPP in Sindh passed several Resolutions against NAB and the Sindh Rangers to stop them from carrying out their duties targetting the corrupt.
Pakistan politics is usually a family business with the top leadership using questionable means to gain power. The Constitution is violated at the whims of individuals, the rule of law is trampled without, institutions are ridiculed, etc. The thousands of NAB cases pertaining to corruption, embezzlement, tax evasion, etc involving billions being looted involving politicians, govt servants, and businessmen, etc should prove the point why NAB is being hounded today. Blatant perjury is the order of the day, has any of the accused or witnesses been jailed for telling lies under oath? With NAB’s dedicated investigators and employees getting the necessary space under Chairman Justice Javed Iqbal, NAB has become very effective carrying out accountability going after those wielding immense power and influence with renewed motivation. Shahbaz Sharif’s speech in the National Assembly was very welcome, symbolizing effectively why and how NAB’s detractors operate with impunity using the Constitution as a cover. The corrupt and powerful would like nothing better than to either dismantle NAB and/or make it as toothless as possible so that they can keep on looting the nation with impunity.
The writer is a defense and security analyst.