2018 has been a violent and turbulent year in Pakistan but the image of “handcuffed corpse of Mian Javed Ahmed, the former CEO of the Lahore campus of Sargodha University” will haunt us for a long time to come. Mr Ahmed was arrested, placed in custody and apparently died of heart attack a week later. But why was he handcuffed and tortured?
As Irfan Hussain recently wrote, “we might well have created a monster that is now running amok.” The monster he is referring to is NAB. “NAB’s chairman, Javed Iqbal, claimed his organisation had no political agenda, and that it conducted no ‘revengeful activities’. Well, he could have fooled me. Ever since the accountability saga began under Gen Ayub Khan 60 years ago, the aim of the exercise has typically been to crush political opponents of the government. As far as I can see, nothing has changed since then. NAB’s head honcho lost his credibility shortly before the July elections when he ordered an investigation into a claim that Nawaz Sharif had laundered $4.9 billion via India. This accusation was based on a column in an Islamabad-based newspaper that caught Iqbal’s attention, in which this figure was cited. The figure itself is, in fact, entirely hypothetical. It was taken from a World Bank study that estimated how much money migrants sent home per capita. By multiplying this notional figure with the number of mohajirs who crossed to Pakistan from India at Partition, it arrived at the figure of $4.9 billion. As this ‘money’ had not entered the exchequer, the writer concluded that Nawaz Sharif must have been responsible for its disappearance.”
What is worrying as Hussain notes is “the politicisation of the whole accountability process. In fact, Nawaz Sharif should be familiar with the way his Ehtesab Commission went after Benazir Bhutto and Asif Zardari in a nasty, highly targeted campaign. Other countries have similar anti-corruption bodies — but, normally, suspects are not dragged off to jail in handcuffs for up to 90 days without having been proved guilty. By granting NAB such draconian powers, we might well have created a monster that is now running amok. Clearly, we want to eradicate graft from society, but to do so, the system and the process must be seen to be neutral and free of political bias. With a budget of Rs2.6bn, NAB can (and does) run a large number of investigations. However, the fact that a few members of the ruling party have been subjected to scrutiny, despite widely publicised allegations, shows that NAB officials know that, while it is open season on politicians no longer in power, targeting members of a sitting government risks having their budget slashed.”