THE chairman of the National Accountability Bureau, retired Justice Javed Iqbal, has halted proceedings of the fake bank accounts case against Senate deputy chairman Saleem Mandviwala after he blasted NAB for resorting to blackmail in order to extort money from people. The PPP senator accused the anti-corruption watchdog of committing human rights violations and using the name of the army while indulging in extortion activities. He said that the DG NAB Rawalpindi, Irfan Mangi, was openly saying he enjoyed the support of the army and no one could remove him. The senator said he would highlight NAB’s activities at international forums. Mr Mandviwala also disclosed that he had written letters against NAB to the prime minister and army chief.
The charge sheet against NAB as presented by the senator is a serious one. If even a fraction of what he has said is true, it shows an organisation untethered from all bounds of accountability and acting in a manner that should concern every citizen. It is unimaginable in a democracy that a state organisation could be openly resorting to threats, blackmail, extortion and human rights violations without any fear of consequences. There have been persistent reports of NAB hounding citizens, threatening them with arrests, harassing them and coercing them into plea bargains. These reports also speak about NAB officials acting with impunity, behaving like thugs, and abusing their powers in a routine manner. A retired army officer, who had also worked with NAB, had committed suicide and left a note saying that NAB’s consistent browbeating and blackmail had driven him to the extreme step.
It is rather shocking that senior officials like DG NAB Rawalpindi are carelessly using the name of the army to justify their acts of omission and commission. The relevant authorities should take serious notice of this, and if proven to be true, ensure that this NAB official faces the full brunt of the law. The NAB chairman, under whose watch this organisation is regressing into a national embarrassment, should identify the black sheep within and take remedial action against them. The unfortunate aspect of this sordid saga is that NAB’s roguish behaviour combines with its incompetence in terms of investigations. The Supreme Court has regularly criticised NAB for such rank incompetence and told the chairman to set his house in order. However, instead of NAB correcting its mistakes and improving its performance, it is getting worse. The government and parliament should take note of how NAB is damaging democracy, society and even national interest by giving the country a bad name. The government should also order an inquiry to determine if NAB officials are soiling the name of the armed forces for their personal agendas and ulterior motives. NAB must be reformed before it does more damage to Pakistan. The country cannot endure the burden of such a flawed organisation.
Baba Jan’s release
AFTER nearly 10 years of incarceration and an incredible struggle for justice, political activist Baba Jan, along with other activists, has been released from jail in Gilgit. He had been sentenced in 2011 to 71 years in prison for ‘inciting’ people against the Gilgit-Baltistan government. Baba Jan’s release is indeed welcome news; thousands of people participating in a sit-in last month ahead of the GB elections were given assurances by the caretaker set-up that he and other political prisoners would be released within two months. Baba Jan’s tale underscores the harrowing reality of activists in the country who put their lives and personal security at stake to fight for their community. That he was arrested, reportedly tortured and subsequently convicted for being ‘anti-state’ and a ‘threat to the public’, is not only deeply ironical but also outrageous. He was arrested a decade ago as he led a protest for his community that was struggling for compensation after being displaced by a devastating mountain landslide that formed the Attabad Lake. The disaster spelled doom for the residents of the Gojal Valley, where villages were either entirely or partially submerged. Nearly 20 people were killed and around 6,000 displaced. It is clear today that Baba Jan was a political prisoner, for he would not have been released had he actually been a threat to the state. As his party, the AWP, said, Baba Jan and the other activists were “punished for speaking up for the affectees of the Attabad Lake disaster and for the rights of the working people of GB over their own resources”. In any civilised society, his fight for a justified cause would have been welcomed. Instead, he was labelled a terrorist and left to languish in a jail cell. Although he is a free man today, his time in prison has come at a huge cost to him and his family, and indeed the wider community.
Such activists provide an essential service to communities during crises. They also give people hope when the authorities have forsaken them. To reward his struggle with a prison sentence was sheer cruelty. The human rights ministry must look into Baba Jan’s case and his unfair imprisonment. While nothing can compensate for the years he has lost due to a frivolous case, perhaps the human rights ministry can be persuaded to intervene and prevent such arrests of political activists on trumped-up charges.
Kaavan in a better place
THE World’s Loneliest Elephant might presently be the most famous too, enjoying near-celebrity status. Yesterday, after years of tireless campaigning by animal rights activists, Kaavan arrived in Cambodia from Islamabad Zoo — his home for over three decades — and was received at the airport by American singer Cher. The singer, who was at the forefront of the efforts for his release, spent the past few days in Islamabad, and even met the prime minister. In May, the Islamabad High Court had ordered the release of Kaavan from the Islamabad Zoo, along with all other animals, due to the deplorable conditions there. Appallingly, two lions died during their transfer to a farm in Lahore. According to the postmortem report, the two had suffocated to death after their caretakers lit a fire inside their cage. For the past few months, a dedicated team of experts from Four Paws International looked after Kaavan, so he could make a safe journey to the sanctuary in Cambodia. Now, he will open his eyes in his new home. After spending many years without a companion, he will finally be surrounded by his own kind.
Kaavan may have tasted freedom, and a better life lies ahead of him, but countless animals remain trapped in captivity. It is unlikely their plight will recreate media attention or capture the public’s interest in the same way, but the tireless work must go on. While there have been some gains — wild-animal circuses are now banned in several countries, for instance — there is a long journey ahead. Civilisation’s bottomless appetite — to consume, to be entertained — has cost the planet heavily, and we will continue to see the effects of such avarice, until there is a mass and serious change in attitudes towards the natural environment, including the enslavement of animals. In the words of an earlier champion of animal rights: “The question is not, Can they reason? Nor, Can they talk? But, Can they suffer? Why should the law refuse its protection to any sensitive being?”