ISLAMABAD - A threatening National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has brought Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and former President Asif Ali Zardari closer as both try to jointly run for safety, close aides said yesterday.

Only recently, the two parties were at each other’s throats but Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s warning to NAB to stop ‘harassing’ government employees has pleased the Pakistan People’s Party.

Zardari reminded Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that not only the NAB but the Federal Investigation Agency were also harassing the politicians.

Earlier, the former President had alleged Prime Minister Sharif was repeating politics of victimisation, which was prevalent in the 1990s.

Differences between the PPP and the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) were threatening to revive the rivalries of the past when the two parties fought like bitter enemies and took turns to rule the country in the 1990s but the independent-minded NAB chief, Chaudhry Qamar Zaman, saved the day by hinting at across-the-board accountability – something unacceptable to the powerful elite.

Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan was delighted at the NAB’s apparent independence but questions were raised at his own party’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government which was accused of clipping the wings of the provincial Ehtesab Bureau. Imran Khan said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif were threatening NAB and his party will “strictly oppose government’s attack.”

He clarified the Director General Accountability Commission Lt. General Hamid Khan (retd) did not resign over differences with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government but his own reasons.

Close aides of Imran Khan said he wanted to use this ‘opportunity’ to expose the corruption of the PML-N and the PPP while dreaming of coming out clean with his team before the 2018 polls.

“If the PML-N and the PPP form a team against the NAB, the PTI will have a chance to tell people how these parties avoid accountability. We will present ourselves (the PTI) as the alternative. If they are held accountable then even we will have a win situation,” he remarked.

Reports indicated Prime Minister Sharif’s annoyance with NAB was personal as the Bureau was not closing the file on corruption cases launched against the Sharif family during Pervez Musharraf’s regime. Zardari, the PPP supremo, believed NAB was victimising him and his party under a ‘fabricated’ case launched by the previous PML-N government in 1997.

For years, NAB – earlier Ehtesab Bureau - had been allegedly used against the political opponents by successive governments.

Late Farooq Leghari – as the President – started the witch-hunt after dismissing the government led by Benazir Bhutto in 1996 and when Nawaz Sharif was voted to power in the ensuing elections, his henchman Saifur Rehman did not waste a minute to implicate Benazir Bhutto and Zardari in a number of cases.

A few years later Musharraf seized power in 1999 and transformed the Ehtesab Bureau into NAB to keep the PML-N and the PPP on their toes.

Sources in the PPP and the PML-N said the two parties had grievances against the NAB and had covertly agreed to clip the Bureau’s powers.

A senior PPP leader told The Nation the Prime Minister seemed to understand the party’s claims of victimisation. “When we were crying they made a mockery of us. We still believe we can work together to find out what can be done to make the accountability process fair,” he said.

He added the two main parties were in contact to come out of the clutches of the NAB. “We will study positive suggestions from the government to stop political victimisation,” he said.

A PML-N lawmaker said the PPP was a mature party and was willing to find a way out of the NAB crises. “We are optimistic they will support our proposal to set up a new commission to oversee the NAB’s working. Talks are on and we hope to make the accountability process transparent,” he said.

The PML-N leader said the top leadership of the two major parties agree that NAB should not be used against the political opponents. “We want the close the baseless cases.... be it against the PPP leaders or the PML-N leadership,” he added.

He said Sharif and Zardari had not been in direct contact but the relations seem to be improving amid the NAB crises. “Direct contact (of top leaders) cannot be ruled out but the parties are almost on the same page on NAB. We can say the PM and Zardari are much closer than they were in the recent weeks,” he said.

Information Minister Pervez Rashid said the government did not plan to abolish the NAB or make it toothless. “We only want to trim their nails. So many government officials are upset with the NAB,” he maintained. Rashid said the government wanted a fair accountability system but could not tolerate unnecessary chasing of the innocent people.

About Imran Khan’s support for NAB, the minister said Khan was known for changing his stances. “Only a few weeks ago Imran Khan claimed the NAB chairman had a deal with the government and now he is standing with the NAB chief,” he recalled.

Sindh Information Advisor Maula Bux Chandio chided the government for laughing at the victimisation of the PPP but screaming on their own turn.

“It is sad the government only knew of victimisation when it was touched by NAB. Before that everything was fine. Our victimisation did not matter to them,” he contended.

Chandio said when the NAB extended its operation to Punjab, the Prime Minister was perturbed. “We have been saying this for decades that accountability should not be designed to crush an individual or party. It should be a fair process,” he said.

As the PML-N and the PPP team up against the NAB, Interior Minister Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan said the FIA will investigate misdoings of the previous PPP-led government.

He said several mega scandals emerged during the PPP government - that completed its five-year term in 2013 – and the FIA will investigate the case.

He claimed the government had no plan to clip the powers of the NAB but blamed Musharraf of using the Bureau against the PML-N leadership.

Official sources said Prime Minister Sharif had asked his ministers to go soft on the PPP as the PTI was not willing to support the government on the NAB issue.

“The PM believes if the PPP supported the government, the PTI’s opposition will not make any difference,” a close aide of the premier said.