The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) came into existence on 16 Nov 1999. Simultaneously Special Investigation Wings (SIWs)were raised from the ISI to assist National Accountability Ordinance (NAB) in collecting relevant information about the accused persons. FIA and ACEs directors of all four provinces with NAO provisions of ‘power to seek assistance were placed under direct command with investigation officers and allied staff for the conduct of probes, inquiries/investigation and filing of references by NAB. Corps NAB Cells were transformed into RAB (Regional Accountability Bureaus), eventually becoming Regional NABs under directions of the Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan.
Command of these Regional NABs were given to selected career officers of the three Services, Peshawar to Airforce, Rawalpindi to Navy and remaining three, Karachi, Lahore and Quetta to Army. While middle and lower tiers of command from grade 17 to 20 were a mix of career profiles. In 2004 NAB created its own hardcore permanent cadre by transferring their services under its TCS provisions. The Armed Forces got their all uniformed officers and men repatriated in 2008 and NAB continued with deputations from the public sector and officers and ranks that it recruited under TCS as a permanent cadre.
Politicians across the board were involved in bank wilful default cases through imprudent practices of bankers with political patronage. Cooperative scams mushroomed in the country defrauding the public at large. With NAB’s first Chairman Lt Gen Amjad a person of great integrity and honesty, NAB became a huge deterrence to corruption during its initial days when the anti-graft law allowed unlimited detention period with no allowance of judicial interjection. Unfortunately, some of those Amjad selected as his top aides were his drinking buddies (mostly from his old alma mater), they soon discovered their penchant to line their own pockets. Because their lifestyles was in sync with Musharraf’s, these dubious characters managed to get some very honest and dedicated senior officers, DDG NAB e.g. Maj Gen Inayetullah Khan Niazi (and No 2 to Amjad), posted out of NAB and out of their way.
While pursuing Musharraf’s personal agenda for ensuring longevity for his rule, they had virtual impunity and even afterward were never held accountable. Cooperative Housing Scams, bank default, and mega corruption cases were utilized as pressure instruments for bargaining to turn sides. Since the SIW was overall responsible to prepare cases and also keep overwatch on all NAB activities, parallel upward movement of cases to SIW Headquarters independently enabled Musharraf to politicise the Bureau for political benefits. Most of the accused were blackmailed into forming the Q-League Government. Eventually, Amjad did find that those he had trusted were using NAB for Musharraf’s political purposes, an honorable person he immediately resigned and left.
It is a tragedy that many investigated by SIW for corruption are today in senior decision-making positions. The FIA’s rich experience with seasoned and professional investigators in white-collar crime cases became handy to NAB for its assets recovery and bank default cases and related activities. FIA also assisted NAB in reaching out to absconders and fugitives. Musharraf first “democratic” Cabinet had at least 20 members on ECL because of NAB cases. This extended Musharraf’s stay till the promulgation of NRO.NAB’s inquiries conducted from 1999 to 2004 by SIW were discontinued in 2004 after Musharraf resorted to the government through pressuring of selected PML (Q) members.
Proving himself more loyal then the king, Lt Gen Amjad’s successor Lt Gen Khalid Maqbool was rewarded with the Governorship of Punjab where he managed the “electable” for Q-League in support of Musharraf during elections. The Musharraf regime blatantly now started dictating to NAB what path of accountability was to be followed. NAB’s effectiveness was further waylaid when Finance Minister (and later PM) of Pakistan Shoukat Aziz took stock exchanges and other financial institutions virtually out of the ambit of NAB with the rationale that accountability hurts financial institutions and therefore the economy. Is this so in the US and elsewhere where major stockbrokers like Michael Milken were jailed? Incidentally, the Honourable Chief Justice of Pakistan seems to have taken into account all the charitable work done by Malik Riaz. Interestingly Michael Milken one of the top US stockbrokers have very heavily to charity through a number of philanthropic organizations, “Fortune Magazine” carried him on its cover in 2004 for charitable work. He still went to jail. Will the criminals among our stockbrokers go to jail or end up in the PM’s House? Issuance of various SBP and FBR circulars, the infamous SBP Circular 29, where banks loans could be waived further allowed the state kitty to suffer huge losses. Gen Musharraf agreeing to this outrageous contention allowed widespread stock manipulation and fraud. Today’s stock market “fat cats” all contribute billions to charity, they made their ill-gotten wealth off the money of millions of middle-class people who lost their entire savings on criminal stock exchange manipulation.
One of the cases investigated by SIW was that of Usman Farooqi the then Chairman NAB appointed by PPP inflicted huge losses to Pakistan Steels in collusion with suppliers and contractors. This plunged Pakistan Steel into collapse. It is said that Usman Farooqui’s mentor Asif Zardari pocketed the lion’s share of the money extracted up by Farooqi. Farooqi owes prime responsibility in turning Pakistan Steel into a black hole for Pakistan’s economy. Approximately twenty-one inquiries conducted by NAB Sindh pertaining to Steel Mills, more than dozen investigations and references entered into prosecution and trial stages. Farooqi was arrested in one of the references and was sent to jail. Granted bail by the High Court he went underground and reportedly got refuge in the house of a serving Brigadier who was the Chief Executive of a major utility in Karachi. This man abetted and facilitated Mr. Farooqi in absconding. At the very least in this particular case has very strong backers, powerful politicians, and bureaucrats, otherwise, how could the facilitator of Mr. Farooqi’s (and his) SIW’s record with the intelligence agencies be erased (or lost) from the files, and he continues to occupy a very important position today?
Lt Gen Munir Hafeez had the longest tenure as a NAB Chairman, first in uniform and then under the provision of law as a retired BPS – 22 officer. For the first time in its history, the NAB Chairman got into a conflict of interest by using his office in getting various quotas and businesses for himself and only allowing the manipulation of NAB cases by the government (and his own cronies eg PIA) as regards to the opening, closing or keeping cases dormant. This not only destroyed NAB’s image amongst the public but created resentment in the rank and file of NAB. His successor Lt Gen Aziz showed extreme resentment and annoyance about the politicization of NAB, after a period of about one year he went on long leave and did not return. Musharraf later created history by legalizing Corruption by the NRO, NAB’s accountability became a laughing stock.
During the time Zardari was President, NAB understandably was made ineffective, many cases against him were brought to court and then dismissed “for lack of evidence”. Has the SC ever asked Pakistan’s former High Commissioner in the UK Wajid Shamsul Hasan on whose authority took and for what “national security” reasons he took into his custody the dozens of boxes of evidence from a court in Switzerland from our Embassy pertaining to the Rockwood Estate case. Can this man explain how did some of the boxes of evidence conveniently disappear? What is the punishment for tampering with evidence? Is justice so blind? Under one Chairman NAB cases against Malik Riaz were dropped overnight, NAB’s senior personnel who objected were dismissed or sidelined. There is a prima facie case here but does anyone pay heed? Former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry declared the black the NRO law and illegal, then filibustered the court cases for years to keep Zardari, the primary beneficiary of NRO, in power. Is that why President Zardari quashed the criminal indictment of Malik Riaz and former CJ Iftikhar Chaudhry’s son, Arsalan, by the Federal Tax Ombudsman (FTO) Shoaib Suddle who was asked to investigate the case? And what stops from NAB taking up this case?
To some extent, Qamarzaman Chaudhry restored NAB’s image but even he faltered when it came to the Sharifs, primarily out of personal loyalty but also because of lack of support from the than SC. Has anyone even questioned how a former CJ SC is rumored to have more than 2 dozen plots in DHA Karachi? With the present SC virtually on a “Jihad” against corruption, NAB’s Chairman Justice Javed Iqbal has with confidence brought a renewed energy into NAB to make it as effective as it was during its first few years.
Given that the dedicated investigators and employees of NAB will now have the space to carry out effective accountability, why not make a symbolic example of those corrupt NAB personnel, whoever it was and whatever his appointment, Chairmen included, who gave NAB a bad name and compromised its effectiveness? By carrying out self-accountability NAB will become symbolically far more credible, by doing so it will become effective against corruption as it was meant to be.
The writer is a defense and security analyst