The allegedly humiliating manner in which civil servant Ahad Cheema was arrested and exposed before the media behind bars by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has got the entire Pakistan Administrative Services (PAS) up in arms. Seething with resentment at the treatment of their colleague, the PAS officers took the unprecedented step of summoning their colleagues from near and far throughout Punjab to hold a meeting and decide on their response. It turned out after the meeting that the PAS was divided on the best way forward. Three options were discussed without a conclusion: confronting NAB, continuing with their (partial) pen down strike or taking legal recourse. Although the offices locked by angry bureaucrats were later reportedly opened, even the partial strike caused paralysis and public inconvenience. The PAS is continuing its deliberations on which option is the best for them. Meanwhile the Punjab government has decided to approach the federal government to get its support to rein in NAB, a federal institution, and persuade or compel it to adhere to legal procedures and norms and not to humiliate civil servants. Needless to say the Punjab opposition, mainly the PTI, railed against the PAS for its protest and lock out. While no one can oppose accountability across the board, NAB since its new chairman Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal took over, seems in a hurry to wipe out the memory of his predecessor’s alleged foot dragging in cases against the Sharifs, going so far as to treat civil servants as alleged collaborators or front men of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. Whether there is any truth in this perception or not only proper investigation would reveal, but hasty and seemingly arbitrary actions have set the PAS against such treatment and threatened the Punjab administration with disruption if not paralysis. Surely there must be a better, more legally defensible way to achieve NAB’s objectives without throwing Punjab into administrative turmoil.
Of course this targeting of the PAS by NAB can only be seen in the backdrop of what the Sharifs are undergoing at the hands of the judiciary. Ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif has intelligently used the victim card to great effect, if the size of the public rallies he has been addressing since his departure from office is any guide. Having been disqualified from the prime ministership and then disallowed to head the PML-N by the Supreme Court (SC), Nawaz Sharif is now preparing his party and supporters for the real possibility that he will be disqualified for life by the SC in the third verdict in his case expected any day now. The two verdicts so far, disqualification and being disallowed to be party head, Nawaz Sharif has described as ‘pre-poll rigging’, not the least because the SC second verdict’s short order declared the judgement would apply with retrospective effect. Normally the courts accept the balance of convenience in pronouncing verdicts with prospective effect, thereby giving protection to acts already done in good faith. One result of the retrospective verdict has been the rejection of all the PML-N candidates’ papers signed by Nawaz Sharif as (then) party head. After the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) turned down the option of those candidates’ nomination forms being signed by PML-N Chairman Raja Zafarul Haq and instead allowed the candidates to stand as independents (a decision that is considered controversial in some quarters), fears are being expressed that this may open the floodgates to horse-trading, of which rumours and allegations are already doing the rounds. Consciously or otherwise, the campaign by the powers-that-be to tighten the noose around Nawaz Sharif and his family runs the risk of unleashing disorder and institutional conflict that may give birth to disorder and worse. Surely that is not an outcome anyone in their senses would consider good for democracy or the country.