Barely twenty-four hours after the arrest of one of the leading opposition members, Asif Ali Zardari, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) arrested yet another leader of the opposition-Hamza Shahbaz. After the Lahore High Court (LHC) refused to extend Hamza Shahbaz’s interim bail in the Ramzan Sugar Mills case, where he is facing charges on corruption, assets beyond means and money laundering, the NAB team left the court with Hamza and took him to the Thokar Niaz Baig offices of the accountability watchdog. As if the arrest of the opposition leader of the Punjab assembly was not enough to generate discussion of the political set-up of the country, MQM founder Altaf Hussain — who went into exile in the early 1990s — was arrested in London on suspicion of intentionally encouraging or assisting offences contrary to Section 44 of Britain’s Serious Crime Act 2007.

It must be noted that these arrests, particularly that of Hamza Shahbaz, are not very characteristic of standard procedure adopted at such cases. Hamza Shahbaz’s arrest, just like that of Asif Zardari’s, is not one after conviction; in both extremely politically and high-stakes cases, no one has been declared guilty yet. Bails are usually rejected when there is fear that the accused might abscond- in these cases, the accused have not shown signs of leaving with the case untried; the return of Shahbaz Sharif from London should have cemented Hamza’s case that he is here to face the charges against him. Yet it appears that it was to no avail.

However, even more than the arguments of irregular procedure, the more indicting factor in these arrests are the optics of having nearly all of the majority opposition leaders in jail or facing threat of jail. With Nawaz Sharif, Hamza Shahbaz, Zardari, Altaf Hussain and Shahbaz Sharif either in jail or facing accountability cases, nearly all the opposition that contested the elections against Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) is in jail, with only one conviction (pending in appeal) for Nawaz Sharif between them. The case looks worse considering there are those suspected or facing corruption charges from the government as well, yet they have not been subject to the harsh scrutiny from NAB that opposition members have.

Details of the cases aside, just this fact sheds doubt upon NAB’s claim that it is being unbiased in its pursuing against corruption. We agree that corruption should be prosecuted against- yet if these arrests are to hold any weight at all, the accountability that NAB is bringing should be implemented across the board. There are many fish to fry across the political spectrum- NAB shouldn’t discriminate based on political leaning.