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Thursday, November 30, 2023

Should the government abolish NAB?

After opposition parties, the HRW has called on Pakistan to stop using the NAB as a tool for political witch-hunt in the light of a recent Supreme Court decision. The verdict termed the anti-graft agency’s conduct as a manifestation of “utter disregard to the law, fair play, equity and propriety”. Should the incumbent government abolish NAB?

The Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on Pakistan to stop using the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) as a tool for political witch-hunt in the light of a recent Supreme Court decision which termed the anti-graft agency’s conduct as a manifestation of “utter disregard to the law, fair play, equity and propriety”. The opposition parties have already demanded the government to abolish NAB.

In a statement issued on Thursday, the international rights watchdog, while citing the July 20 verdict issued on the bail petition of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) MP Khawaja Saad Rafique in Paragon Housing reference, urged the government to “investigate and prosecute” bureau’s officials purportedly responsible for “unlawful arrests and other abuses”.

The apex court in its strongly-worded verdict had called the case against the former minister as “a classic example of [the] trampling of fundamental rights, unlawful deprivation of freedom, and liberty and the complete disregard for human dignity as guaranteed by the Constitution”.

The judgment is “just the latest indictment of the NAB’s unlawful behavior,” said Brad Adams, Asia Director at Human Rights Watch. “Pakistani authorities should stop using a dictatorship-era body, possessing draconian and arbitrary powers, to intimidate and harass opponents.”

The body also asked the government to reform the accountability watchdog through parliament to transform it into an “independent” organisation.

Read More: NAB’s incompetent officers are responsible for delay in deciding cases, SC

The former Prime Minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, also said on 13th December 2018 that the NAB ordinance was against the Pakistani constitution, Islamic values, and our human rights commitments. “It was drawn up by a dictator and it should end”. The former Prime Minister made these statements while speaking to Doctor Moeed Pirzada on his prime-time show “Live with Moeed Pirzada” on GNN.

SC slams NAB in its latest judgment

In the detailed, 87-page ruling, penned by Justice Maqbool Baqar, the court highlighted severe lapses in the NAB’s due process and legal procedure, the definition and purpose of bail, and due processes in criminal cases. This judgment is the reason behind demanding to abolish the NAB.

The court noted about the NAB that its “conduct throughout this case is a clear manifestation of their utter disregard for law, fair play, equity, and propriety”.

“In this country, it would be quite contrary to the concept of personal liberty enshrined in the Constitution that any person should be punished in respect of any matter, upon which, he has not been convicted or that in any circumstances, he should be deprived of his liberty upon only the belief that he will tamper with the witnesses if left at liberty, save in the most extraordinary circumstances.

Justice Baqar further underlined that “all civilized societies recognize the principle that punishment comes only after conviction, and the presumption of innocence subsist with the accused, till he is handed down the punishment after trial”. “It hardly needs any reiteration that the detention either pre-trial or during trial causes great hardship,” the judgment added.

Read More: Ramzan sugar mills case: NAB court summons Shehbaz, Hamza

According to the judge, it was unfortunate that “even after 72 years since the creation of our country, and despite 47 years since the adoption of the Constitution, we have not been able to realize the spirit and essence of the ideals set out therein”.

“Nobody can dictate NAB”

In 2019, Justice (Retd) Javed Iqbal, Chairman NAB, made it cleat that the NAB law was not a black law. “Many Socrates and Platos have come to life who have never read the NAB law but still criticize and call it a black law,” said the NAB chairman.

While addressing the gathering, the chairman categorically rejected what he termed as “malicious propaganda” against the watchdog, while vowing to continue work according to the Constitution of Pakistan.

The NAB chairman said, “If NAB was a black law, the Supreme Court would have abolished it.” “This is a black law for those who are still involved in stealing,” the chairman stressed.

He said that he has always welcomed criticism, but it should be logical and conceivable. The NAB chairman warned that the accountability watchdog would act against those taking part in corruption. “If there wasn’t corruption, Pakistan would not need to take loans.”

Read More: Will NAB chairman get an extension in service?

Justice (Retd) Iqbal further said there was no person who could dictate NAB, adding there was propaganda being done against the bureau. “The time when corruption was overlooked has passed,” the NAB chairman warned. “If anyone commits corruption, then he/she will have to confront NAB.”

Experts believe that the government should not abolish the NAB rather it needs to be thoroughly reformed in order to make it effective and in line with the basic values as prescribed in the constitution of Pakistan.