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New NAB Law Is A Consensus-Building Exercise — But Will It Work?

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Umer Farooq argues that the amendments to the NAB law is an attempt by the PTI government to mend its ties with the opposition in order to gain the latter’s support in legislation pertaining to COAS’s extension. If the government fails to muster enough support for the legislation, the COAS will retire on the expiry of six months tenure that Supreme Court awarded to him.

Politics is an art of consensus building—it requires the political leaders to build consensus between different political, social and economic interests in order to make the society and state function in a harmonious way.

Through consensus building the politicians create space for their policies and strategies to function smoothly and achieve goals that could not possibly be achieved if the political scene is fractured and divided. Consensus building is required for political strategies to work even if different political groups in a society are at loggerheads.

The process of consensus building often requires give and take—this often involves government or powers that be conceding on a vital issue representing parochial interests in order to muster support of political opponents on an issue that is considered of supreme importance by the ruling elite.

This is exactly what happened on Friday night when PTI government promulgated an ordinance to amend the NAB laws, creating enough space for the opposition politicians to breathe.

The new law offers more protection to public office-holders or government officials while at the same time excludes several financial sectors from the purview of the anti-corruption watchdog. The new law curtailed the powers of the NAB authorities to directly deal with the corruption charges against public office holders and senior bureaucrats.

In the words of a senior lawyers the new law considerably dilute the power of NAB authorities under the old law, in case of which the accused has to prove his innocence under the old law, “The way NAB’s powers have been curtailed, people say it’s another NRO, but in my opinion, it’s ‘NRO-Plus”. Politicians including several former and incumbent public office holders will be taken off the hook by virtue of this new ordinance, says a senior Law ministry official while talking to Nayadaur on the condition of anonymity.

PTI government would benefit the most from the amended NAB law as several ministers are facing inquiries, especially in the cases involving Peshawar’s Bus Rapid Transport and Malam Jabba sports resort. It might also give relief to Prime Minister Imran Khan in a case involving alleged misuse of a government helicopter.

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Several bureaucrats associated with former PMLN government would also be taken off the hook just by virtue of this amendment. This amendment could also prove beneficial for several second tier of political leaders associated with former governments of PMLN and PPP.

PTI government and especially the Prime Minister is trying to give the impression that this new law would only benefit the business community. This impression, in the words of senior Supreme Court lawyer, is not correct.

This ordinance will be beneficial for three types of people: First it will benefit the bureaucrats, who have been under NAB scrutiny for too long and too harshly. Secondly it will benefit the business community, which has been complaining to the military leadership and Prime Minister Imran Khan about the harsh treatment they have been meted out by the NAB authorities. Thirdly, it will benefit the two major political parties—PMLN and PPP which had remained in power in Islamabad between 2008-2018—and whose members are under scrutiny of the NAB authorities for too long.

The last group seems to be the intended recipient of the favor from military and political leadership. And in return the military and political leadership wants the two major political parties—PMLN and PPP—to extend support to the PTI government for the legislation on the issue of extension of General Qamar Javed Bajwa within the next six months.

Supreme Court has ordered the government to legislate on the issue of extension of General Bajwa within next six month in order to remove the lacunae in the Army law so that the issue of extension in the services of COAS could be regularized.

The initial contact between PTI government representatives and officials of the two major political parties didn’t produce the required results as the PPP and PMLN refused to extend support to government’s legislation efforts in the legislative business.

As a result, the government had to file a review petition in the Supreme Court requesting the court to reverse the decision delivered by the three members bench headed by former Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa.

The government had constituted a three members committee comprising Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Defence Minister Pervez Khattak and Minister for Planning Asad Omar to take the opposition parties into confidence over government’s plan to legislate on the impending law making on the question of giving three years extension to General Qamar Javed Bajwa on the directive of Supreme Court of Pakistan.

“Considering that the COAS is responsible for the command, discipline, training, administration, organization and preparedness for war of the army and is the chief executive in the General Headquarters, we, while exercising judicial restraint, find it appropriate to leave the matter to the parliament and the federal government to clearly specify the terms and conditions of service of the COAS through an Act of Parliament and to clarify the scope of Article 243 of the Constitution in this regard,” read a short order issued by the court. “Therefore, the current appointment of General Qamar Javed Bajwa as COAS shall be subject to the said legislation and shall continue for a period of six months from today, whereafter the new legislation shall determine his tenure and other terms and conditions of service,” it added.

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If the government fails to muster enough support in both the houses of the parliament for the required legislation, then possibly General Bajwa would have to retire on the expiry of six months tenure that Supreme Court awarded to him.

However, the new NAB is seen as an exercise in consensus building by the government and military leadership—it is yet to be seen whether the opposition parties see this concession as enough to support the government’s legislative efforts or would it demand more from the government which seems to be in a tight corner.

The opposition could reject this concession as too little, too late.

In functioning political systems the process of consensus building always features prominently in political life of the society. However, most of the time it is used for achieving higher political goals that the political leadership set for the society and state—meaning thereby that the efforts to achieve political consensus for attaining petty personal interests or serving the career interests of senior government officials would amount to waste of national resources and would naturally appear as opportunistic.

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