- May 14 2018
National Accountability Bureau is working overtime to 'fix' the former prime minister and his family.
From the time Pakistan’s corruption watchdog, National Accountability Bureau (NAB), came into existence, through its various avatars, it has served as a handmaiden of the powers-that-be to either fix political opponents or make them pliable. With the "deep state" having turned against Nawaz Sharif, the NAB has been virtually transformed into "Nawaz Accountability Bureau" and is now working overtime to "fix" Sharif and his family and cronies.
In recent months, while there has been a lot of focus on the dubious role of the Pakistani judiciary in fixing the political match against Sharif, the insidious role being played by the chairman of NAB, retired Supreme Court judge Javed Iqbal, as a political hitman has escaped attention.
Ever since he was appointed as the NAB chairman, he has had the Sharif family in his crosshairs. Ironically, the Sharifs had acquiesced to his appointment. It appears they were taken in by his reputation for being something of namby-pamby.
But they clearly ignored his reputation for also being a slimeball for whom principles were a matter of convenience, and morality fungible.
When Musharraf imposed emergency in November 2007 and sacked the Supreme Court judges, Javed Iqbal quietly accepted the position of the chairman of the Press Council. After the judiciary was restored he once again became a Supreme Court judge.
During a hearing in the "missing persons" (enforced disappearances) case, when asked why he didn’t summon the heads of the intelligence agencies or the generals who are responsible for human rights violations, Iqbal said that last time the judges had the temerity to do such a thing the generals sent them back home, and therefore no one should expect the judiciary to go down that path again!
In fact, as head of the commission appointed to examine enforced disappearances, he has done more to cover up the brazen violation of human rights by Pakistan Army than to hold it to account for kidnapping and murdering Pakistani citizens.
With such a man now heading NAB, it is a no-brainer that his strings are being pulled by the khaki-clad puppeteers that want him to go after Sharif with the zeal of a new convert.
Ever since he has assumed the mantle of Pakistan's anti-corruption czar, Iqbal has opened a plethora of cases/inquiries against Sharif and people associated with him, including officials.
Some of these cases were more than 20 years old, and many had been closed years ago. But until a few days back, even if the evidence was extremely flimsy and the allegations completely motivated, an argument could still have been made to support the enquiries that had been initiated against Sharif and his cronies.
Overzealousness can, however, easily backfire if the intentions are ignoble and objective is nefarious. The NAB has now badly exposed itself by initiating a money laundering inquiry against Sharif based on fake news peddled by an obscure columnist in a rag of an Urdu paper.
The thing is that fake news or alternate facts sound credible if it plugs into a narrative that is being furiously and fervently hustled and is readily lapped up by its consumers, including those occupying high offices. This is exactly what has happened in the latest money-laundering inquiry against Sharif.
Sharif is already being tried in a NAB court on charges of money laundering. His detractors have long accused him of having business interests with India which they allege (without offering an iota of evidence) are dearer to him than his country.
He has been accused of hiring Indian technicians (some of them alleged RAW agents) to work in his factories. Against this backdrop, an old report — the story first appeared in the Pakistani press in December 2015 — that the World Bank (WB) has estimated that Pakistanis sent $4.9 billion (Rs 32,900 crore) in remittances to India, was resurrected to tighten the noose around Sharif’s neck.
Subsequently, this was extrapolated by Pakistan's legion of conspiracy theorists to insinuate that Sharif was laundering money to India. It is this report that has now been picked up by NAB to inquire into Sharif’s financial dealing with India.
The only problem for NAB is that this whole story has no feet to stand on. In fact, the Pakistani central bank has on at least two occasions debunked the entire story and pointed out that the WB estimate contained in the "Remittances and Migration Report" was based on the seriously flawed methodology used in an earlier working paper titled ‘South-South Migration and Remittances’.
The problem in the methodology was that people who migrated during Partition were viewed with the same lens as other migrants, many of whom were economic migrants who sent remittances to their home countries. In the case of the Partition migrants, neither this assumption, nor this causation held.
In any case, the WB report was about remittances. It took the feeble and flaky minds in Pakistan to equate remittances with money laundering. Worse, it required a particularly maleficent mindset to accuse Sharif of being involved in this activity.
The column on which this inquiry is based was published in February last and alleged that in 2015-16, $4.9 billion was transferred to Dubai and from there to the Indian treasury.
It goes on to assert that this transfer was discovered when the WB conducted an audit of the State Bank of Pakistan’s foreign currency reserves! For any government agency to initiate an inquiry on the basis of such utter tripe is nothing short of making a fool of itself before the entire world.
What is more, it doesn’t just reveal the astounding ignorance and malevolence of NAB officials, it also exposes the viciousness of the ‘deep state’ that is ready to descend to any level to finish Sharif.
More than anything else, this latest attack launched just a few weeks before the general elections, raises serious questions about not just the witch-hunt against Sharif in the name of accountability, but also the very credibility of the elections.
This commentary originally appeared on DailyO.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s).