Pandora’s Box

International agreements require due diligence and competence and not merely integrity.

By Muhammad Waqar Rana | March 2021


The Broadsheet case is the latest national embarrassment for Pakistan - a continuing tale of woes and vulnerabilities at international forums. It is a consequence of the casualness with which far-reaching decisions are made by the persons in authority; it is another form of abuse of power. Any system of government that has no built-in mechanism to guard against corruption and mal-functions is bound to fail. Therefore, all modern constitutions have checks and balances. A society that accepts the corrupt and spares the mighty and powerful, is destined to fail. Where thugs and criminals rule and rejoice while the wheel of law tramples on the poor and helpless, nothing can avoid the fall of that state as it is against God’s eternal laws.

Abuse of authority is as old as public institutions. During the last days of the British rule in India, the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1947 was enacted. Earlier, Clive and Warren Hastings, who had further solidified East India Company’s rule in India, were impeached for corruption by the British Parliament. After partition, from 1949-1999, several laws were enacted in Pakistan to ‘punish’ public office holders for corruption but the graph of corruption never came down. The latest report of Transparency International is a further indictment of the crumbling system in Pakistan.

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) came into being on 16 November 1999 and replaced the Ehtasab Bureau created under the Ehtasab Act, 1997. In the aftermath of the 12th October 1999 military coup, corruption was the ground on which the Supreme Court granted conditional validity to the constitutional deviation of General Musharraf in Zafar Ali Shah’s case. NAB was meant to create awe and fear as admitted by General Musharraf years later while making political fixes. NAB’s authority was purportedly used for a witch-hunt of politicians and the bureaucracy. In Asfandar Yar Wali’s case (2001), wherein the vires of the NAB Ordinance were challenged, it created an exception for judges and army personnel, for they were not public office holders according to the law and judgement. It is said that the judgement violated the basic principle of rule of law viz. equality before law and ripped it of its moral authority.

In this background, the Asset Recovery Agreement was executed on 20 June 2000 between Broadsheet LLP, a company incorporated in the Isle of Man, UK and the then NAB Chairman to trace assets of persons listed by NAB. It seems to have started well, which is apparent from the judgment of the High Court of Justice, London, dated 12 July 2019. NAB, however, rescinded that agreement with Broadsheet. Arbitral proceedings were commenced by Broadsheet between 2009 and 2011. The liability phase proceedings started in January 2016. The award was given in August 2016. The biggest part of the claim was the discount on the assets belonging to the Sharif family as per the judgement based on the award. It seems that street-smart Broadsheet partners outwitted novices at home.

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The writer is an advocate of the Supreme Court and former Additional Attorney General of Pakistan. He holds an LL.M. degree from Harvard Law School and is the co-author of a book ‘Comparative Constitutional Law.’ He can be reached at

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