LAHORE - In June last year former president Asif Ali Zardari, whose party, the PPP, is in opposition, lashed out at the military establishment for what he called “the character assassination of his party” and warned that if they did not stop, he would expose the misdeeds of many generals.

“Beware, beware, beware, if I hear this again, I will make public a list (of generals) starting from the creation of Pakistan and you will be giving explanations for quite a long time,” he said while addressing a gathering of newly-elected PPP office-bearers from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).

“Stop the character assassination of our party; I do not want to see our institutions becoming weak. I know your colleagues are accused in different cases, which are being tried in court. If I make a list of these generals public in a press conference, you will be destroyed,” he was quoted as saying.

(The ‘brave’ leader left the country immediately thereafter and is not picking up courage to return home).

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is also the president of the ruling PML-N, warned the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to act carefully or get ready to have its wings clipped.

“The NAB is harassing government officers. They (bureaucrats) are afraid of taking decisions (signing of files of different projects) because of the NAB harassment. The NAB terrifies the government officers, hindering them from performing their duty,” he said while addressing his party men in Bahawalpur.

The third-time prime minister, whose attitude this time is much different from the one during the earlier two terms and appears to be dictatorial and arrogant, further alleged that the NAB officials entered the houses and offices of “innocent people” without verifying the authenticity of corruption or other charges.

“I brought the matter to the notice of the NAB chairman a couple of times. He should take notice. Otherwise, the government will take legal action in this regard,” said the prime minister.

Encouraged by the prime minister’s changing mood against the NAB, Asif Zardari issued a statement the same day, alleging that the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) too is following in the footsteps of NAB, implying that the government should also take on this institution, which is already investigating an allegation that the prime minister, along with many other leaders, had received funds from ISI to defeat Benazir Bhutto in the 1990 election.

The statements made by leaders of the ruling and the opposition parties are self-explanatory. They don’t want the NAB or the FIA to play the role they are playing. Other parties whose leaders are facing action at the hands of these or any other institution are also likely to throw their weight behind the two.

It is an open secret that the performance of the NAB has never been enviable. Had it ever launched a ruthless process of accountability and taken those with ill-gotten money to task, corruption would not have been as rampant in the country as it is at present.

In such a situation it would have been appreciable if the prime minister had called upon the NAB to “do more” and take exemplary action against all those involved in corrupt practices. Such a directive would have served as a deterrent for those wanting to make money through corruption.

What will happen now? Will the NAB show its muscle and proceed against the corrupt elements against whom cases are already pending? Will it give in to the pressure being mounted by the governing and the opposition parties? What will be the fate of the cases pending against the prime minister, his brother (Punjab chief minister) and his daughter’s father-in-law, who also happens to be the finance minister?

The initial signs are quite discouraging. A NAB spokesperson, for example, said yesterday that the accountability body respects the prime minister and his opinion.

“The government’s policy to avoid intervening in NAB activities is what makes the body independent,” he was quoted as saying. He said the accountability process should be improved according to the directive given by the prime minister.

A spokesman could not be expected to make any other statement.

According to some reports, the NAB is expected to decide by March 31 cases against the prime minister and some others mentioned above.

There are two possibilities: Either the “accused” would be given a clean chit or proceedings would be started against them.

A clean chit issued under obvious pressure from the mighty accused would have little legal value.

On the other hand, in the given situation the NAB cannot be expected to resist pressures coming from all parties. Everybody knows that the ruling party and the opposition can change or even strike down the very law under which the NAB functions. And when so much is at stake no possibility can be ruled out.

Apparently, the army and the judiciary will have to intervene to save the NAB from pressures. Gen Raheel Sharif would have to play the kind of role that he played to enable the NAB to continue proceedings against the two brothers of former army chief Gen Kayani. Similarly, the judiciary should see if a prime minister, who is also accused in some cases, had the right to threaten the NAB the way he did.

Left undefended, the parliament will emasculate the NAB, burying the process of accountability, which is already not very satisfactory.