Of accounts and accountability.


NAB was established in 1999 with the blessing of Gen Pervez Musharraf's military government. In his own words, "NAB was created to put the fear of God in the corrupt".

Like all military rulers, General Musharraf too had little faith in the organic growth and empowerment of state institutions, hence the creation of an all-encompassing federal establishment to bring corruption to account. NAB was to be responsible for investigating financial crimes inside the government as well as in the public and private sectors.

Defaulters were to be brought to task under the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) promulgated in 1999. The NAO went one step further, creating a mechanism to recover the stolen wealth with the aid of voluntary return and plea bargain (sections 25 and 26 NAO XVIII). This is where the NAO drew its distinction from its predecessor the Ehtesab Act of 1997 (repealed in 1999) that created the Ehtesab Cell.

Ironically, neither of the two anti-corruption agencies were creations of a democratically elected government. The Ehtesab Commission (later named Ehtesab Cell and then Bureau) was created by the appointed caretaker government under presidential ordinance after Benazir Bhutto's dismissal.

The caretaker Prime Minister Malik Meraj Khalid, along with his Cabinet, was supposed to lay the groundwork for elections, but unfortunately they exceeded their mandate. The Ehtesab Commission was thus set up under the premise that accountability was more important than administration.

Eventually, elections did take place and Nawaz Sharif's party won by a landslide. Despite the undemocratic and unconstitutional status of the Ehtesab Commission, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif endorsed it with amendments through the Ehtesab Act in 1997. He renamed it the Ehtesab Bureau and moved it to the PM Secretariat headed by the infamous Saifur Rehman, a close confidant of Sharif.

Thus, began the endless cycle of politicising accountability using state institutions. The EC accused and later incriminated Benazir Bhutto for misuse of power and living beyond means.

One by one, the EC used its considerable resources to target any and all rivals of the ruling party, be they politicians or the media. This led to countless party defections, horse trading and a general atmosphere of toxicity in the political environment.

Mian Nawaz Sharif's government was not to last long, a mere two years after the EC had been established, General Musharraf toppled his government in a...

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