The Parliament tried – and failed – to bring the military under the jurisdiction of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), but it seems that the judiciary has done what the legislative could not – at least partially. Ending a 19-year-old ambiguity in the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) 1999 - due to which NAB had shown reluctance to proceed against retired army officers despite legitimate cases having been made against them – the Islamabad High Court (IHC) ruled that as citizens of the state, retired officers from the military can be investigated and charged by the NAB.

The ruling is certainly justified, as the uncertainty had created a perverse lacuna in the law; where serving members of the armed forces are tried by military tribunals and not civilian ones, but retired members are tried by neither. The fact that this illogical situation persisted for decades is a testament to the grim performance of the nation’s accountability bodies. While much of the fault rests with the subsequent NAB administrations for interpreting the NAO so cautiously and restrictively, the failure of the legislature to correct this loophole is also a glaring mistake.

But the misguided policies of the NAB will be overlooked in the pursuit of the bigger story. The name of Pervez Musharff is bound to grab most of the headlines as the ruling was given in a petition against him, while the focus will be on the IHC directing NAB to proceed against the currently absconding ex-general. However, the legal precedent set is infinitely more important in the circumstances; especially since the petition rests on the vague claims made by Pervez Musharaff in his book “In the Line of Fire”, where the he admits to handing over a large number of people to the US in order to make money. It is difficult to see the petition making much headway under NAB proceeding – but the precedent stays.

The clarification would enable NAB officials to target several ex-army men who have been implicated in mega corruption cases. There are several current high-profile investigations into property fraud and corruption by men linked to the military; the removal of this blanket protection should allow the accountability body more room to operate. In theory at-least, the political will to hold military-related individuals accountable for financial corruption still remains weak.