On Wednesday, Pakistan’s The News reported that the ruling party of the country’s new coalition government, the Pakistan People’s Party, “will set up a new institution for accountability after abolishing the National Accountability Bureau.” All pending cases in the NAB against [former PPP stalwarts who switched over to the PML-Q] Faisal Saleh Hayat and Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao, [the former federal interior minister under Shaukat Aziz] as well as other friends and associates of the Chaudhrys of Gujarat [leaders of the PML-Q], are likely to be reopened once the new NAB comes into being. PPP spokesman, Farhatullah Babar, told The News, “…the PPP will pursue all references of corruption that it has filed against the looters of the public exchequer, including one against [former prime minister] Shaukat Aziz…It would be up to the new accountability commission to decide whether it will take up the pending cases of NAB or not.”
What is the NAB, anyway? Established in November 1999, soon after Musharraf took power in the October 1999 military coup, the National Accountability Bureau is the anti-corruption government agency operating under the National Accountability Ordinance of 1999. Although the NAB has emphasized that it recovered over $40 billion from corrupt politicians, bureaucrats, and businessmen following its conception, Human Rights Watch has called the Bureau “a vehicle for detaining former officials and party leaders.” The NAB has been accused of jailing or threatening political opponents of the establishment, such as officials from the PPP or PML-N. In fact, recently elected prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani was “apprehended” and jailed by the NAB in 2001, reportedly in response to a “hard-hitting” interview that called for the then-military regime to allow the exiled Benazir Bhutto to return to Pakistan and criticized Musharraf.
Although it seems that much of the PML-Q is being “targeted” by this new initiative, the PPP has asserted this new commission “would not be vindictive” and “all investigations will be done transparently.” Nevertheless, the corruption charges and subsequent investigations further emphasize (1) the purging of the government of any Musharraf “allies,” namely from the PML-Q, and (2) the inevitable attempt by the ruling coalition to assert its new power and start ruling with a “clean slate,” a shift not uncommon following regime changes in Pakistan. Do you feel this new NAB would act as yet another vehicle for a government wishing to curtail the influence of its opponents, or is it more of an “honest” initiative to weed out corruption?