SC’s denunciation of NAB
THOSE who run the National Accountability Bureau should hang their heads in shame — if they have any capacity for it. The anti-graft body has often been censured for its modus operandi but this time around, no less than the Supreme Court has excoriated its workings as being patently unlawful, unjust and in furtherance of a political agenda. Authored by Justice Maqbool Baqar, the 87-page judgement in the Paragon City case describes the matter as “a classic example of trampling of fundamental rights, unlawful deprivation of freedom, and liberty and the complete disregard for human dignity as guaranteed by the Constitution”. The two-judge bench had granted bail on March 17 to the accused, former railways minister and PML-N leader Khawaja Saad Rafique and his brother Khawaja Salman Rafique, overturning a rejection of their bail plea by the Lahore High Court on June 18 last year.
The court has perceived NAB’s conduct in this case as part of an unmistakable wider pattern that speaks to objectives far removed from any notion of accountability. The verdict notes the bureau’s reluctance to act against one side of the political divide even where huge financial scams are concerned, while “those on the other side are being arrested and incarcerated for months and years without providing any sufficient cause even when the law mandates investigations to be concluded expeditiously and trial to be concluded within 30 days”. How else can this be interpreted but as a witch-hunt, the very antithesis of accountability? Pursuing a political vendetta in this guise only erodes the people’s faith in governance, exacerbates political divides and brings the democratic process into disrepute. Indeed, when mechanisms of justice are manipulated into serving instead as instruments of persecution, it puts the very future of a country at stake.
The Supreme Court verdict reiterates that NAB’s actions violate the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’, which is included in the UN charter of human rights. The bureau chairman’s powers to arbitrarily carry out arrests have proved a convenient stick with which to beat the opposition — and the odd recalcitrant journalist — with. Taking an individual into custody on allegations of corruption and keeping him there is a surefire way of destroying his reputation in the court of public opinion, even when evidence is flimsy or non-existent. The humiliation inflicted over the past few years by NAB on numerous bureaucrats who allegedly carried out illegal orders by ‘corrupt’ politicians, has rendered the bureaucracy virtually catatonic. A number of businessmen were also hauled up by NAB; that did not have a salutary effect on the investment climate in the country and the law was tweaked accordingly. Now that the Supreme Court has weighed in so unequivocally, the government must sit with the opposition and thrash out new accountability legislation, one that actually serves the ends of justice.
THE ingredients were all there. A PML-N delegation had just called on PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari in Lahore that is considered an auspicious venue for nascent movements. A multiparty conference is set to be held after Eidul Azha. Yet there is something missing. At the gathering of members of the country’s two biggest opposition parties, the setbacks that make things easier for the PTI government were noted. But true to tradition, there was no great search for a new direction, not even a sustained common ambition. It can be said though that the ground had been better prepared this time. Mr Bhutto-Zardari arrived in Lahore against the backdrop of a consultation he and his father, Asif Ali Zardari, had held with Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who is almost certainly going to be a very important component of any opposition alliance against Prime Minister Imran Khan. The PPP chairman also contacted Mian Shahbaz Sharif after landing in the Punjab capital to further prepare the ground for talks on a joint front that Mr Bhutto-Zardari has been very keen to create for some time now. But whereas he would be hoping that the long-stuck opposition ship is about to set sail in the right direction, the reluctance reportedly shown by Mr Sharif over participating in the conference could represent a huge hindrance.
All talk of PPP and PML-N must start with a basic question: can they ever trust each other? In this particular case, Mr Bhutto-Zardari is out to sell a messy option to a true connoisseur of drawing-room games. He is taking a route that the PML-N’s own politicians have found difficult to tread. Mr Sharif may be indisposed and thus a doubtful starter for the MPC. However, his party colleagues, as well as opposition politicians such as Maulana Fazlur Rehman, betrayed by friends while he was on the march to Islamabad, can confirm how unyielding Mr Sharif can be to demands of protest, let alone street agitation. Impatient, pro-action opposition elements would have been more comfortable dealing with Mian Nawaz Sharif or Maryam Nawaz. That was not to be and now they are confronted with the task of ensuring that their post-Eid huddle is successful. It is too big an occasion to be marked by merely deriding the government. The opposition alliance led by the PPP and PML-N has to ensure the presence of all stars and come up with a plan befitting of an Eid milan party.
UAE Mars probe
SPACE, the final frontier, has fascinated man since time immemorial, and in the modern age aiming for the stars has become a matter of national prestige. At the height of the Cold War, the Soviets and the Americans competed fiercely in the space race, sending chimps, dogs and eventually humans into space. However, it was the Americans who took a ‘giant leap’ by putting Neil Armstrong on the moon in 1969. Ever since those heady days, countries have been trying their best to add their names to the elite spacefaring club. On Monday morning, the UAE made significant progress through Al Amal, dubbed the first Arab mission to Mars, launched from a Japanese site. The UAE had only some time ago put its first astronaut in space.
Due largely to its backwardness in all things scientific, the Muslim world has been a laggard in the space race. While the first Muslim in space was a Saudi prince — Sultan bin Salman, son of the current king — who hitched a ride aboard an American shuttle in 1985, Muslim states have made slow advances in space exploration, mostly guided by technology developed by others. The fact is that whether it is space travel or any other branch of advanced science, the Muslim world does not have much to boast about. While the world of Islam blazed trails up till the Middle Ages, ever since the colonial and postcolonial eras there has been mostly silence. Apart from Turkey and Iran, most Muslim states are consumers of scientific knowledge, not producers. The reasons for this are many; primarily, Muslim rulers have not been too bothered about promoting scientific learning and innovation, while decaying education systems create mostly rote learners. Even the oil-rich Arab sheikdoms, who have built skyscrapers with foreign expertise, have not inspired their pampered native populations to innovate and excel. A truly exciting day will be one when students in the Muslim world will have the training and academic vigour to chart their own way to the stars.