The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has received a lot of criticism for political engineering and going beyond its scope, yet the Bureau has shown that it disregards the political heat it gets, as NAB further investigates into a number of political corruption cases, right before the elections. NAB Chairman, Justice (retired) Javed Iqbal has announced that references would soon be filed in connection with ongoing investigations into mega corruption cases.

This foray into mega corruption cases may not have lent so much fuel to the fire of criticism if NAB had not quite obviously targeted one political party. But as it stands now, this seems the case. By pursuing “mega corruption cases”, the Chairman meant an ongoing investigation into 56 public companies formed by Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz (PML-N) President Shahbaz Sharif during his tenure in Punjab as the chief minister. It also includes, not so coincidentally, another venture of PML-N, the Saaf Pani Company, an investigation proposed by the Supreme Court, which has also been accused of political bias.

One could excuse the bias in pursuing cases selectively against one political party but not the unusual execution of those cases. In the case of Saaf Pani Company, Raja Qamarul Islam, chairperson of the company, had been previously informed by NAB that there were no files on him, yet, NAB, in a departure from procedure, reversed its decision and arrested him, just mere hours after he was awarded a ticket by PML-N to contest elections against Chaudhry Nisar from NA-59. It seems highly unlikely that Raja Qamarul Islam’s choice of political party did not play into the decision of NAB to arrest him right away, and lends credit to allegations of political engineering against the institution.

Considering NAB’s past record of political interference, this move is likely to target the PML-N. Even if there was no bias in this decision, as Javed Iqbal maintains that NAB does not see faces while investigating, for the sake of electoral integrity, NAB must put off the references till after the election. The whole government machinery must ensure that a free and fair election must be held and must take all necessary actions. FBI’s unfortunate opening of investigation of Hillary Clinton right before the 2016 US presidential elections demonstrated all too clearly how mere announcement of references or arrest warrants close to the election can unduly affect the result, and we must not let ourselves go down that path.