The ‘A’ is for Accountability

The ‘A’ is for Accountability

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If Netflix was serious about winning the streaming wars, it would already have commissioned a series on Pakistan’s Broadsheet fiasco. The saga includes everything from international fixers to dramatic deceit, and that touch of farce so necessary to keep an easily distracted audience engaged.

Between 2000 and 2008, the government of Pakistan sent Broadsheet LLC a list of 200 names, including politicians, businessmen and former army officers whose foreign assets it wanted Broadsheet to find. Broadsheet jumped at the offer as they were going to get 20% of any assets thus recovered which, given the quintillions of dollars Pakistanis apparently have illicitly stashed away, was a very lucrative deal.

It started out well, and Broadsheet did in fact help trace assets belonging to Admiral (Retd.) Mansoor-ul-Haq, from which they earned a commission. Encouraged, Broadsheet went on to trace $3.5 million belonging to Aftab Sherpao which had been parked in a Jersey island account. They duly informed the Pakistan government and then waited to receive their commission. 

Apparently, they waited and waited, but no word came until it was communicated to them that Sherpao was no longer a target. 

Coincidentally, this back-off order came around the same time Sherpao merged his party with the aptly-named Musharraf-manufactured ‘forward group:’ the PPP-Patriots. Also by some alignment of the stars, the same happened with Faisal Saleh Hayat when he joined the ‘Patriots’ and with Haroon and Humayun Akhtar, once they joined the PML-Q.

The judge then felt compelled to tell NAB’s counsel that this was in fact the literal definition of NAB’s mandate: it’s right there in the ‘A’ for Accountability. 

Zarrar Khuhro

To the hopelessly cynical, it seemed the process of accountability launched by the Musharraf government was not in fact intended to bring back the looted wealth of Pakistan at all. Instead, it would appear the project was intended to arm-twist politicians into toeing the government’s line. 

Certainly this is what it looked like to Broadsheet, who saw their expected commissions slip away and after the cancellation of their contract, sued for the amount they would have earned if the recoveries had in fact taken place. 

When the curious case of Aftab Sherpao was raised in the UK court, the judge felt compelled to ask the National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB) counsel why this had happened. NAB’s response is the stuff of comedy gold: the lawyer argued that despite having submitted Sherpao’s name to Broadsheet, NAB had no real intention of recovering his foreign assets. 

The judge then felt compelled to tell NAB’s counsel that this was in fact the literal definition of NAB’s mandate: it’s right there in the ‘A’ for Accountability. 

At this point it likely dawned on everybody that Broadsheet could not be treated the way a local SHO is: by having them file and then withdraw cases against troublesome people once a deal is made.

Even Special Advisor to Prime Minister Shahzad Akbar alluded to this in the Senate when he said that despite contracting Broadsheet to chase Nawaz Sharif, the then government cut a deal with Sharif and allowed him to go into exile.

The comedic interlude aside, NAB contended that the line in clause 4.1 which stated ‘any assets recovered’ meant assets recovered outside of Pakistan. However, the language used was: ‘Any assets recovered as a result of the efforts of Broadsheet or as a result of a settlement between NAB and any [registered person].’

And so, given that contracts are interpreted not on the basis of intentions and wishful thinking, the judge ruled in favour of Broadsheet. Broadsheet then went on to add the assets of Nawaz Sharif to the damages claim. Now this totalled a whopping $820.8 million as the bulk of these assets ($622 million) were in Pakistan. Therefore, Broadsheet demanded 20% of this sum. 

Here’s the best part: this information was not uncovered as a result of Broadsheet’s efforts but in fact provided to Broadsheet from the JIT report on the Panama case on Nawaz Sharif. Simply put, the government provided the rope for the noose that Broadsheet hung it with. These are just a few of the sorriest details of this case, and as more information trickles in, there are sure to be more plot twists and revelations.

Wisdom is a terrible thing when it brings no profit to the wise; those who have studied the history of ‘accountability’ in Pakistan know that this series, gripping as it is, is just a remake of an older show.

We have seen this drama play out for decades, from PRODA to EBDO, all the way to Saif-ur-Rehman’s Ehtesab Bureau, and we know that no matter how loudly we hail the onset of accountability, the process is almost always a cover for political witch-hunts and victimization. Worse yet, it gives an opportunity to the truly guilty to claim that they are being persecuted, and a large number of people will believe them based on historical precedent.

We all want the guilty punished and looted wealth recovered, but this broken and malicious process will not result in that-- except perhaps by accident. 

*Zarrar Khuhro is a Pakistani journalist who has worked extensively in both the print and electronic media industry. He is currently hosting a talk show on Dawn News. Twitter: @ZarrarKhuhro

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