Pakistan opposition cries foul over anti-graft body chief

The NAB chairman, at the direction of the Supreme Court, was required to write a letter to Swiss authorities for re-opening of  corruption cases against President Asif Ali Zardari, who is accused of stashing away millions in Swiss banks.

Zardari Friday approved the appointment of Justice (retd) Deedar Hussain Shah as the new chairman of NAB here. Shah was elected as a legislator in 1988 and 1990 as a Pakistan Peoples Party nominee before he was made a judge of the high court.

His allegiance with the PPP has already placed a question mark over his appointment and the opposition is crying foul over the appointment.

"We'll challenge this appointment," said opposition leader in National Assembly Nisar Ali Khan.

On the other hand, Law Minister Babar Awan categorically said that "the appointment has been made purely in line with the directions of the Supreme Court".

Perceived by many as a tool in the hands of the government to victimise political opponents, NAB had assumed a role of arm-twisting opponents during the tenure of former President Pervez Musharraf.

The opposition parties during that tenure, PML-N and PPP, had reached an agreement that NAB chief had to be appointed with consensus between the government and the opposition.

The announcement has drawn sharp reaction from the government ally Awami National Party (ANP) "who regretted that the government had not taken them in confidence".

"It would have been to consult the stakeholders before making such an important move," ANP spokesman Zahid Khan told IANS.

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz legislator Khawaja Asif said that the "PPP government is bracing for more hostility with the political powers and judiciary by making such appointment".

"We had already rejected the name of Deedar Shah for this slot and remain ready to retaliate if the government thinks it has challenged us."

Political adviser to the president, Faisal Raza Abdi, dismissed the apprehensions of the ANP and PML-N. Abdi said: "We are not obliged to take their concerns into consideration."
"This is an administrative position and the government has appointment a person who was best suitable for the job."

Several NAB cases were struck down after Musharraf decided to introduce a controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) to grant immunity to corruption-tainted politicians. The NRO also paved the way for the return of exiled leader Benazir Bhutto and her husband Asif Zardari.

After the assassination of Benazir Bhutto before the general elections in 2008, Zardari has risen to become the president of Pakistan. The Supreme Court of Pakistan declared the NRO null and void Dec 16 last year and directed for re-opening all cases that were quashed under the controversial ordinance.

Following the court orders, the NAB chairman was required to write a letter to Swiss authorities for re-opening the cases against Zardari.

A Swiss court was hearing corruption cases against Zardari, in which he was accused of depositing allegedly ill-gotten wealth from several off-shore companies in Swiss accounts, before it was all wound up due to the NRO.

The government has been showing reluctance to follow the orders and two former chairmen, Naveed Ahsan and Javed Zia Qazi, have had to exit on apex court's displeasure.

Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said: "The government can't proceed against the president who is a symbol of the federation."

The government has also submitted a petition in the apex court for review of the NRO verdict and the hearing is set for Oct 13.

"The new NAB chief faces his first test on October 13 and it will be quite a stern one," constitutional expert Muneeb Farooq told IANS.

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