As the breathless scenes in Model Town outside the Sharif residence unfolded on TV one was distinctly reminded of another arrest saga by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) – that of the Leader of the Opposition, Shehbaz Sharif. While the circumstances are not completely analogous, the manner in which the arrests were to be made is. The NAB’s propensity to make each incident as public and as dramatic as it can casts a pall on its stated objective; and turns otherwise routine matters into a media circus.

This is not to say that the NAB wasn’t entitled by the law to make the arrest of Hamza Shehbaz. Despite their being a fair amount of confusion regarding court orders, protective bail petitions and the exact ambit of the ordinance that governs the body, the body does reserve the right to arrest individuals pertaining to investigations that it is conducting. However the body must exercise restraint and be mindful of the optics of its actions.

Shehbaz Sharif could have been arrested without much fanfare and after proper intimation, Dr Shahid Masood could have been produced in courts without handcuffs, and Hamza Shehbaz could have been taken into custody with his cooperation. Yet the NAB chooses to take those actions that garner the most public attention in the most undesirable ways. The body has been accused of trying to character assassinate individuals through its callous and demeaning behaviour – it has several deaths on its hands for the same reason – yet it refuses to mend its ways. In other jurisdictions around the world the identities of the accused are hidden until they are convicted to avoid creating undue bias against them in the public’s eye – the NAB operates on the opposing principle; treating an individual as a criminal in the public’s eye even before the investigation has been completed.

The behaviour of the Deputy Director of NAB outside the Sharif residence only affirms this further. When asked why they were here to arrest Hamza Shehbaz, the Deputy Director launched into an oratorical rant about “thieves stealing from the nation” and the “betrayed vision of the founding fathers”. This is not the language of an unbiased investigation officer – this is the language of a biased politician out to smear his opponents.

While there is no doubt that Hamza Shehbaz – or any other individual under investigation – must cooperate with the authorities and obey legal orders, the NAB must rein its theatrics in, and proceed in a more professional and circumspect manner.