The parliamentary panel on accountability laws, responsible for recommending changes to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Act, is deliberating on the jurisdiction of the law. One major development is the consideration to apply the law to all functionaries mentioned in the service of Pakistan, including armed forces personnel and members of the judiciary.

The question is an interesting yet controversial one. Certainly, institutions such as the judiciary and the armed forces could use more accountability. The institutions do have their own systems; judges of the superior courts can only be tried by the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) under Article 209 of the Constitution; and the army also has its own tribunals. However, most convictions we have seen under these mechanism have not pertained to the issue of financial impropriety or possession of assets beyond means, and are mostly limited to misconduct or dereliction of duty

There are valid arguments that suggest that such limited and self-administered accountability is not enough. Bribery is a known phenomenon that breathes in the judicial system and the army has its own corruption landmarks, such as the excesses in DHA housing schemes and instances of land grabbing. The institutions may have their own way to deal with their black sheep but it is argued that those methods are not efficient enough. A new NAB law may do leagues in weeding out the corruption.

Moreover, an extension of NAB’s powers would increase the credibility of the judiciary’s recent anti-corruption rulings. By accepting the same accountability themselves, the judiciary and the armed forces would quell those who are calling their actions a conspiracy. If the judges can call an investigation by NAB for a parliamentarian for owning assets beyond means, a charge that the SJC does not consider a top priority, it seems only fair that the judge is ready to be investigated himself by the same medium.

However, there are several complications to an all-powerful NAB as well. The division of power into separate branches of government is central to the republican idea of the separation of powers. Forcing other institutions to be subject to the same accountability medium might mean compromising the independence of the judiciary and the army; independence which is guaranteed in the constitution.

There is also danger of NAB being used as a tool by politicians against the judiciary and armed forces. NAB is a weak institution which has already been played around by politicians to convict and indict for gains. There is no guarantee that this exploitation will not be unleashed on the judiciary and army as well.

While many politicians are in favour of such an extension, these competing concerns need to be ironed out before the proposals are put forward.