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Dawn Editorial 25 December 2019

Flawed accountability

AHSAN Iqbal has become the latest casualty of the farce being carried out in the name of accountability. The PML-N leader was arrested by NAB on Thursday for alleged corruption in the Narowal Sports City project.
In recent weeks, the comparatively reticent politician had grown increasingly critical about the PTI government’s performance on various fronts; last week, he expressed unequivocal support for the verdict against retired Gen Pervez Musharraf, the only senior leader from his party to do so. An accountability court yesterday granted NAB 13-day physical remand of Mr Iqbal.
One would have to be bereft of all reason not to see this accountability season for the political witch-hunt that it is. Even though NAB claims to be an independent body, its actions manifest none of the impartiality that true independence demands. Almost without exception, only opposition figures appear to be in its cross hairs — Nawaz Sharif, Shahbaz Sharif, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Asif Zardari and Faryal Talpur, to name but a few.
Even where investigations have been launched into any individual or project associated with the PTI, NAB has been lackadaisical in pursuing them. Consider the Malam Jabba and Peshawar BRT projects in KP; the accountability body says that references are prepared and ready to be filed. However, contrary to the alacrity on display in the case of opposition leaders, NAB has yet to take action against the alleged perpetrators. It has not even challenged the Supreme Court’s stay order, issued over a year ago, on further inquiry into the BRT project.
The pattern smacks of an institution acting as an instrument of oppression in the government’s hands. It should be a matter of embarrassment for the country’s premier accountability body that virtually all those it has taken into custody have obtained bail — most recently the PML-N’s Miftah Ismail; the superior courts have also, more than once, questioned NAB’s competence and intentions.
Nevertheless, although NAB’s credibility may be in tatters, and Bilawal Bhutto’s angst understandable, the PPP chairman should not defy the summons by a statutory body to appear before it.
Unfortunately, the PPP and PML-N have been hoist by their own petard. Had they not, during their time at the centre, been so keen to ensure that NAB serve as a means to maintain pressure on the opposition, they could have improved the law under which it functions.
The NAB law gives its chairman the power to have the accused arrested at any stage of the investigation. That provision has been used to humiliate political rivals — as well as bureaucrats and sundry individuals — sully their reputations and deprive them of their liberty for extended periods even as the ‘investigation’ proceeds at a snail’s pace.
History is once again repeating itself, and given the cyclical nature of politics in this country, the PTI may one day rue its decision to go down this path.

 
 

A.Q. Khan’s petition

FOR many years, the case of nuclear scientist Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan has remained a mystery despite the dramatic events surrounding his 2004 confession that he was involved in international nuclear proliferation. Dr Khan has now filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking enforcement of his fundamental rights including freedom to travel across the country. Since his house arrest in 2004, his movements have remained severely restricted, and apparently he cannot move around and attend social or academic functions within the country without the prior approval of the security authorities. “This act of the security authorities is illegal since no such order has been conveyed to me warranting the treatment being meted out to me now,” he complained in the petition, adding that it was his fundamental right to move freely throughout the country and meet anyone individually or in an assembly.
Since Dr Khan’s confession on TV during the Musharraf era, he has been kept in protective custody. While much about that episode still remains unknown, what is well established is that Pakistan suffered tremendously because of Dr Khan’s self-confessed activities. The country was accused of being an irresponsible nuclear power and doubts were raised in the West about Pakistan’s capacity and capability to protect and safeguard its nuclear arsenal. In the wake of this episode, Pakistan took a number of steps to upgrade its structure and improve security protocols and over the years it has managed to remove all doubts about the safety of its nuclear programme. These upgraded safety and security protocols are now recognised as fulfilling all international standards. But the case of Dr Khan needs some sort of closure. The petition filed in the Supreme Court will provide the case some traction in the public discourse, but lack of information about what really happened back then will make it difficult for the court to come to some substantive conclusion, especially if much of what transpired remains classified information. The government will have to be more candid before the court regarding his nuclear activities; otherwise it should explain why it is restricting Dr Khan’s movements. The fundamental rights aspect dealing with the nuclear scientist’s freedom of movement could be reviewed once security concerns have been adequately addressed. Pakistan has learnt the right lessons from the unfortunate episode, taken corrective measures and moved on. In this spirit, Dr Qadeer’s petition might deserve some relief.

 
 

Khashoggi sentence

THE grisly murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate last year caused shock and revulsion around the world, with questions raised globally about Riyadh’s much-trumpeted reforms, spearheaded by powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Khashoggi, once close to the corridors of power in Saudi Arabia, had started writing more critical pieces, especially in the influential Western press, and many feel he was silenced for his work. There was an outcry across the globe, with calls for the killers to be punished — particularly repulsive was the fashion in which Khashoggi had been butchered, the gory details made public through media leaks. His remains have yet to be found. On Monday, Saudi officials announced that five suspects had been sentenced to death in the case. However, considering the highly opaque nature of the Saudi justice system, and the fact that some key suspects have been let off, there are justifiable questions about the transparency and legal merit of the trial.
The primary criticism of the Saudi sentence stems from the fact that the court found the diabolical act was “not premeditated”. In the words of Agnes Callamard, the UN investigator looking into the murder, the sentence is a “mockery”; the report she had authored earlier this year had clearly stated that the crime was a “brutal and premeditated killing, planned and perpetrated” by those in power in Riyadh. However, it seems that the powers that be in the kingdom have sought to deflect blame by implicating low-ranking operatives. For example, Saud Al-Qahtani, a government apparatchik with reportedly a direct line to the crown prince, and who American intelligence agencies believe was the mastermind of the Khashoggi hit, was not even charged by Saudi prosecutors. If the Saudis want to convince the world that they are serious about bringing Jamal Khashoggi’s killers to justice, they need to open up to international scrutiny the process through which his alleged killers were convicted, even if this implicates those in high places in Riyadh.

 
 
 

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