Leaked video scandal damages Pakistan’s accountability drive
Islamabad: A video leaked by a local TV channel last month, showing the chairman of Pakistan’s National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Justice (R) Javed Iqbal conversing inappropriately with a woman, has added more scepticism to the ongoing accountability drive in the country.
The woman, who is seen and heard interacting with Justice Iqbal in the video, alleged that the NAB chairman threatened to initiate accountability inquiries against her if she didn’t fulfil his desires.
The NAB rejected the video, maintaining that it was fabricated to target the chairman. It has also booked the woman, Tayyaba Gul, and accomplice Farooq Nol as leaders of a blackmailing ring that had made PKR 24.4 million out of similar fraud.
News One, the channel that aired the video initially, on May 23, retracted the footage later the same day, with Taher A Khan, the channel’s owner, issuing an apology immediately. However, the timing of the video’s release has generated speculation.
Multiple sources within the ruling Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) have revealed that Prime Minister Imran Khan has been unhappy with the NAB chairman for a while. PM Khan believed that the NAB chairman has been lenient in dealing with leaders of the opposition parties the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), with the latter’s president, Shehbaz Sharif, even being allowed to go to the UK.
Furthermore, PM Khan has not been pleased with the NAB going after the PTI’s leaders in the ongoing accountability drive. Recently, the NAB has initiated proceedings against Defence Minister Pervez Khattak.
Earlier this year, Justice Iqbal said that even ‘Imran Khan does not enjoy immunity from proceedings’. Khan has also publicly expressed his displeasure with Justice Iqbal over NAB officials dealings in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a province that the PTI has governed since 2013.
Meanwhile, the opposition parties expressed unity last month, when PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari hosted an Iftar party inviting PML-N leaders Maryam Nawaz and Hamza Shehbaz. The opposition parties vowed to agitate against the government after Eid.
Following the video leak involving the NAB chairman, the opposition parties have maintained that the government is behind the scandal.
“Taher A Khan is Imran Khan’s friend and a PTI supporter. He gave PTI funds for the media campaign during elections. The prime minister is linked to [the video scandal]. The NAB chairman is being coerced to target the opposition,” said Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, former Prime Minister and PML-N Senior Vice President.
While the PPP leadership has similarly echoed calls of ‘selective accountability’ it wants the matter to be thoroughly probed.
“It’s obvious that the NAB chairman has become a controversial figure now and should step down. There are questions over the integrity of NAB as well, which mean that he is no longer fit to be its chairman,” said Khushid Shah, senior PPP leader.
Following the video scandal, PML-N leader Hamza Shehbaz decided to skip his NAB appearance, maintaining that he has ‘lost confidence’ in the institution. However, the NAB chairman gave his approval for the arrest of PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur over fake accounts case. On Monday, June 10, a NAB team arrested Zardari.
With PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif returning to Pakistan the same day to face the corruption cases against him, the NAB going after the opposition leaders immediately after the scandal hints at the pressure being created on Justice Iqbal.
“The NAB chairman should’ve come forward and categorically said that I’m not the one who is seen and heard in the video. Since that hasn’t happened immediately, it’s natural the conspiracy theories would emanate – because of course, someone is behind the incident,” noted Talat Hussain, a political analyst.
The PML-N has accused the PTI of influencing the accountability process since taking over the reins of the government, which the opposition parties allege was done at the behest of the all-powerful military establishment.
Nawaz Sharif, the PML-N supreme leader and three-time prime minister, has accused the military establishment of being responsible for his ouster as the PM in July 2017, when Sharif was disqualified as the premier following the Panama Papers investigation. Nawaz Sharif is currently in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat Jail serving a seven-year sentence in the Al-Azizia Steel Mills case.
Meanwhile, the government has rejected the oppositions’ allegations of being military-backed, and of influencing the accountability process. The PTI leadership has also touted the alliance between the PPP and the PML-N as being designed to dodge the cases of corruption, which the government maintains is largely responsible for the economic crisis in the country.
“To link Prime Minister Imran Khan to the NAB Chairman’s video scandal is a wretched move. Those who have been trying to sideline the PM are those who have been sidelines themselves owing to their actions. The government won’t compromise on ridding the country of corrupt people,” maintained Firdous Ashiq Awan, the Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Information.