Another former Prime Minister is behind bars in Naya Pakistan. The arrest of Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz’s (PML-N) senior vice-president Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, as well as the raid on Miftah Ismail’s house on the same day, is a worrying escalation in the country’s political atmosphere. The “accountability drive” launched by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) and zealously carried out by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) is starting to resemble a purge day by day. When the number of opposition politicians in jail awaiting trial or convicted crosses into the double digit territory, no one can claim with a straight face that the actions of the government and the NAB are “fair and unbiased”.

Once more it is not the act of arresting, or the mere investigation of the opposition politicians that is the cause of such condemnation – it is the carefully designed modus operandi of the NAB, which seeks to imprison, humiliate and pressurize politicians for as long as it can within the confines of the law, all without actually proving guilt in a trial by law. The most egregious technique, used against Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Shehbaz Sharif before him, is to arrest an available, cooperating, non-flight risk politician for “questioning”, and then seeking extensions on the physical remand. That much is obvious here as well; no charges have been framed against the former prime minister, rather he was arrested for “not complying with the bureau’s notice requiring him to appear before the investigators on July 18.” 

Now with the Mr Abbasi in custody for two weeks, the bureau can ostensibly question him on the details of a financial investigation whose figures are a matter of public record, in case that had already been closed once, on a project that has already been through the truth wringer of the Supreme Court. What facts will the NAB unearth in this questioning?

If the Bureau’s previous performance is anything to go by, not much. None of the arrested opposition politicians have been convicted; most haven’t been even put to trial yet. The Bureau’s landmark success, the incarceration of the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the Al-Aziza reference, is now a subject of immense controversy and might be reviewed by the Supreme Court.

The NAB, and the PTI leadership egging it on, needs to rein itself in. Unnecessary arrests, extended physical remands, and blatant attempts at humiliation through public theatrics is not the accountability we were promised.