FeaturedNationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 46

NRO-2 nears completion?

Accountability courts have returned 50 major corruption cases to the National Accountability Bureau after recent amendments, providing big relief to all past and present rulers. Legal experts see the respite a result of recent amendments to graft laws in the country. However, the opposition believes it is a part of a deal under which the current government was brought to power.

According to analysts close to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, which leads the coalition government, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will also return to the country. It is said arrangements are being made that he is not arrested upon his return, like Ishaq Dar was allegedly facilitated. Before Nawaz Sharif’s return, the Punjab government will also be toppled. For it, the PML-N will either appoint its own candidate or name Pervaiz Elahi as its chief minister. It is said Pervaiz Elahi would be forced to leave the alliance with former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf party.

Under the plan, Imran Khan will also be disqualified in any of the cases registered against him. He will most probably be disqualified by the Election Commission of Pakistan in the Toshakhana case. He could also be arrested to provide a “level playing” field to the PML-N, which believes it cannot win the next election without sidelining him.

There are also contrasting opinions about how courts are dealing with graft cases. Law experts say courts are deciding the cases under recent amendments to the National Accountability Ordinance, under which the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has been barred from taking action in corruption cases involving an amount below Rs500 million. The burden of proof of corruption of an accused has also been shifted to the NAB. The NAB chairman has been empowered to recommend the termination of a reference before indictment. An officer will have to face five years in jail if an accused is acquitted by courts on the grounds that the case was initiated with mala fide intentions or based on false or fabricated evidence. Decisions related to taxes, federal and provincial cabinets, councillors as well as the State Bank of Pakistan no longer fall under the NAB purview. Besides, regulatory bodies formed under the laws of federal and provincial governments have been taken out of the domain of the anti-graft body. The NAB amendments are also applicable from January 1, 1985.

The beneficiaries of the new amendments include Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his sons, former President Asif Zardari, ex-Prime Ministers Yusuf Raza Gilani and Pervaiz Ashsraf. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s daughter, Maryam Nawaz, has also been acquitted in corruption cases. Ishaq Dar too returned from his self-exile in London to take the oath as finance minister. According to the opposition, an amount of Rs2,400 billion has been waived through the NRO-2. According to the NAB amendment, an accused will not be answerable for assets of family members. “Through this amendment, a person can commit corruption and open an account in their family members’ name,” says PTI leader Babar Awan.

When former Prime Minister Imran Khan talked about pressure on him to provide National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO)-like relief to the then opposition leaders, everybody thought he was talking nonsense to divert the public attention from high inflation and alleged bad governance of his government. When his government was removed, people realized that an NRO had already been granted to all politicians, who were facing serious corruption and money-laundering cases. The new arrangement is way smarter than the previous NRO, under which relief was provided to politicians from corruption cases by former President Pervez Musharraf in 2007. Former Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif were major beneficiaries of it. It was clear that international forces had pressured President Pervez Musharraf to provide relief to them when they wanted a new set-up in Pakistan for their Afghan war. Later, President Pervez Musharraf accepted that it was his major mistake and apologised to the nation for providing relief to “corrupt” politicians.

Under the new NRO, all politicians, who were facing serious corruption and money-laundering cases, were brought to power, so that they could scrap the cases. It was a clever move as everything remained hidden from the common people. It was an announced NRO, so that no beneficiary or the hands which provided it were identified. It was perhaps because the first NRO had been declared illegal by the Supreme Court of Pakistan and the new NRO was kept secret for the same fear.

However, the NRO 2 is different in many ways. It appears that work on it started soon after Imran Khan came to power in 2018. Under a systematic way, all corruption and money-laundering cases against all top politicians slowed down. They were also granted bail in many cases. Imran Khan, who had no control over the NAB or other law-enforcement agencies, unlike the tenures of the PPP and the PML-N, watched it happen helplessly. In this way, his plan and slogan of accountability was tainted and demolished.

However, the government and its handlers miscalculated his popularity. He became more popular after the common people saw people who were facing corruption and money-laundering cases had been imposed on them. Now, Imran Khan is using the people’s power to reverse the tide.

It appears that almost all corruption cases against politicians will be dropped in the coming weeks. It also shows that space for all politicians in the system is increasing, except for Imran Khan. It appears he is the only unwanted person in Pakistan and responsible for all problems, past and present. It is said he will be disqualified and arrested at all costs. Efforts are also underway to break his party through defections. However, he enjoys massive public support and it will be very difficult for the system to throw him out.