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Dawn Editorial 29 February 2020

Controversial NAB

IF the National Accountability Bureau has earned anything since its creation by a military dictator two decades ago, it is public censure and mistrust. The anti-corruption watchdog has over time become perhaps the most disliked agency in the country. Although the law was amended slightly last year, NAB still retains its powers to arrest people on mere complaints and allegations of corruption and financial wrongdoings. The truth is that NAB has hardly any ‘success’ to its credit to prove that it is adept at investigating white-collar crime — the task it has been entrusted with and that is the justification for its existence. Had the accountability law not provided for ‘plea bargain’ deals with the suspects and allowed NAB investigators to adopt a controversial, highhanded approach, it would have nothing to flaunt.
The recent hearings of two corruption cases against former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and former planning minister Ahsan Iqbal are evidence of how flawed the accountability law is. The politicians’ cases amply demonstrate that NAB does not open corruption inquiries on the basis of solid proof. Nor do its investigators care about actual probes. Little wonder then that most cases continue to linger in the accountability courts for want of proper evidence for years. In granting bail to the two former public representatives the other day, the Islamabad High Court laid bare the many faults in NAB’s investigation process. Chief Justice Athar Minallah raised some important questions about the bureau’s policy regarding the arrest of individuals — even when they were fully cooperating with the investigators in the probe against them — and blatant violations of the suspects’ constitutional rights. Apparently, NAB investigators have made no headway against Mr Abbasi who was arrested almost seven months back in the controversial LNG case. Officials involved in the case also have shown little understanding of how international business deals are done. Nor could they satisfy the judge on why it was necessary to arrest suspects, especially if they happened to have been elected public leaders.
The NAB actions against opposition politicians in the last couple of years, on the basis of flimsy evidence, has reinforced the belief that the agency is being used by the powers that be to make them fall in line. One can recall the way in which Pervez Musharraf used the body to carve out the ‘Patriot’ group from the PPP after the 2002 elections. That is not all. Recent NAB cases against bureaucrats and businessmen and the alleged pressure on them to turn approver against previous rulers have probably damaged investor confidence more than the government’s flawed policies to stabilise the economy. It is because of these reasons that many are calling for the reform of the accountability law and anti-corruption watchdog. In fact, NAB lost its credibility quite a while back and needs to be shut down.


Indo-US arms deal

ONE of the more troubling outcomes of US President Donald Trump’s just-concluded visit to India is a multibillion-dollar arms deal reached between Washington and New Delhi. According to media reports, the deal is said to involve attack helicopters and is reportedly valued at $3bn. While the deal will no doubt be music to the ears of the American arms industry, for those who want peace in South Asia this is an unfortunate development. Pakistan has voiced concern over the deal, with the Foreign Office spokesperson commenting that “we have alerted the international community several times about India’s aggressive designs. …” Indeed, the Balakot misadventure last year — foiled due to the alertness of the PAF — was just one example of India’s bellicose posture towards this country. As the military spokesman told the media on Thursday, India has violated the Line of Control nearly 400 times last year. Certainly these are not actions responsible states indulge in, and it is unfortunate that the US is pampering India as a counterweight to China, without considering New Delhi’s bullying attitude in South Asia.
At the height of the Cold War, India was a firm Soviet client, buying Moscow’s arms and following its geopolitical lead. However, with the fall of communism and with the US establishing itself as the world’s sole superpower, India saw it fit to make inroads with the Americans. That development, coupled with Washington’s intense rivalry with Beijing, has resulted in the US cultivating India as an Asian counterbalance to China. However, while both the US and India champion their status as ‘great democracies’, as the events over the past few days have shown, those who run India today are wedded to thoroughly undemocratic principles. Not only is the Hindutva-inspired administration bent upon demonising and oppressing India’s minorities, particularly its Muslims, the fanatical elements in New Delhi have also threatened Pakistan numerous times in the recent past. Such threats have come from senior Indian military as well as civilian officials. Hence, in such a scenario, when the US chooses to empower the Indian war machine, Pakistan has very legitimate concerns. The deal will only further spur the arms race in South Asia and scuttle any chances for peace. The US should take a more responsible and balanced approach in this region, especially when two nuclear-armed states are involved, and India must not be allowed to bully and browbeat neighbouring states using American weapons.


Sexual harassment

IT may be too early to say the tide is turning when it comes to penalising sexual harassment, but ripples have certainly been created. How far these ripples extend and whether they can lead to a cultural shift can only be judged in time, but setting precedents and drawing clear lines regarding what is and is not acceptable behaviour at the workplace is an important start. This Thursday, the Sindh ombudsman for the protection against harassment of women at the workplace imposed a fine of Rs100,000 on one employee of the Sindh health department, while promotions for another have been stopped for three years. The two men were found guilty of harassing a colleague of theirs. Similarly, just a few days earlier, three government employees were fired from their jobs for harassing the women they worked with.
As more women enter the job market, employers will need to ensure that they are upholding the Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act in letter and spirit. Many women struggle to even step inside organisations and are forced to fight battles both within and outside their homes just to be ‘allowed’ a chance at financial independence — only to be dissuaded by a needlessly hostile and sometimes dangerous work environment. According to the law, all workplaces must prominently display the code of conduct; set up an inquiry committee of three members, consisting of at least one woman; proceed with an investigation within three days of receiving a written complaint; and then submit their findings within 30 days. For years, women have remained silent about the harassment, abuse and intimidation they have had to put up with, fearing that speaking out will only make them more of a target, or they will be made to leave their jobs, or be subjected to character assassination that will haunt them beyond the workplace. That some are now speaking out and receiving support is encouraging for others, and will help pave the way for a more equitable society in the long run.’


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