Accountability in times of corruption – Raoof Hasan

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A systematic effort has been ongoing to generate a state of uncertainty in the country. The process accentuated in the wake of the delay in certifying the appointment of the DG ISI which can potentially aggravate with time now that the opposition parties have decided to take to the streets under the false and fabricated cover of inflation.

Simultaneously, it should also be faced that there is visible division among political parties on the one hand and within political parties on the other, more specifically the PML-N which appears virtually split in two distinct groups: one led by Maryam Nawaz and her father and the other by Shahbaz Sharif with his son Hamza making a bid for the centre stage.

A few one-seat parties complete the coalition of the opposition which is looking increasingly desperate to unseat the government irrespective of what tactics are used, and what may be the consequences of such an undertaking. It would be interesting to understand the catalysts which have provoked things to a stage that it has become a case of one or the other, with no room left for co-existence.

While there may be divisions between the opposition leaders, there is one thing that binds them together. This binding factor is corruption which they have indulged in brazenly, pushing the country to the brink of bankruptcy. They are now together as part of a devious stratagem to help safeguard their illicit loot. They knew that recovery of the plundered billions was part of Prime Minister Khan’s priorities. That is why, from day one, they tried to incite discontentment against the elected government on one clumsy ground or the other.

Numerous findings have irremediably confirmed the illegitimacy of their earnings, bulk of which was siphoned out of the country and invested in lucrative businesses and properties. When the relevant state institutions were entrusted with the task of initiating the recovery process, one actually discovered the gruesome extent to which corruption had penetrated their administrative echelons to render them gravely dysfunctional. This was the outcome of prolonged stints in power of these political leaders whereby they had hoisted their bootleggers on positions of power, specifically designated with the task of subverting these institutions from within so that their loot would be secured.

So, the task was not just to recover the illicit billions from the corrupt leaders. It was far more complicated. It needed to begin with overhauling these institutions to become transparent and functional. This was not a simple matter because of the self-serving amendments incorporated in the constitution regarding the appointment of heads of key state institutions which made it mandatory for the leader of the house to consult the leader of the opposition who, in the current circumstances, happens to be an alleged criminal accused of mass financial plunder. So, a consensus was well-nigh impossible. A concerted attempt was thus orchestrated to stall the whole process so that the prospect of recovery would be undermined.

The challenge is not just the corruption of one or the other individual. It is the corruption of the entire spectrum of leadership that has ruled the country. All of them had to be prosecuted. That is where and why they got together to sabotage the very process of accountability from proceeding further. Because of not having the numbers to bring about requisite changes in the relevant rules and procedures, it appeared that the corrupt lot would be able to escape the dragnet of justice because of an abysmally dysfunctional system.

As the government struggled to expedite the process, the opposition parties approached its various functionaries on the quiet to let bygones be bygones and open a new chapter to move into the future. That meant forsaking the cause of accountability, thus keeping the doors open to further acts of loot and plunder in the future. That not being a possibility, the process has dragged on at a snail’s pace, thus adding to the frustration of a large majority of people who are genuinely eager to see sustainable change in the country. The task has been further aggravated because of a bureaucracy that is fundamentally corrupt, a judiciary that only believes in sound bites and a criminally complicit media that celebrates crime.

The delay thus created was also interpreted by the guilty as indication of the non-feasibility of the whole process of accountability which was projected to the people as a ‘witch hunt’ of the opposition on the part of the government. Simultaneously, security and intelligence institutions were venomously lambasted as being responsible for ‘inducting’ a government which had unsettled the existing system. So, instead of cooperating with institutions in the recovery of the illicit loot, they tried to shift the blame to the government for being ‘vindictive’ which was plugged into the rationale for launching a protest movement against it also.

By orchestrating this fake drama, the opposition thought it could achieve a number of its objectives including incapacitating the accountability process, escaping incarceration and confiscation of wealth and properties, dodging disqualification from taking part in political activities, thus saving their careers and those of their progeny and, on top of that, projecting themselves, yet again, as saviours of the people.

To add to the drama, there is a battle raging between the families of the two Sharif brothers with Maryam lined up against uncle Shahbaz and cousin Hamza. With divergence regarding which narrative to espouse and who takes over the leadership in the absence of Nawaz Sharif, the gulf between them is likely to increase. The PPP, in the meanwhile, is playing for time. Having deserted the PDM at a critical juncture, they appear to have opted for going soft on the establishment. They have, instead, focussed on the twin objective of continuing their loot spree in Sindh.

The government feels that accountability is integral to untangling Pakistan from the poisonous tentacles it has been entrapped in ever since the advent into power of the Bhutto/Zardari and Sharif dynasties. Prime Minister Khan strongly believes that if Pakistan is to progress, every guilty person should be held to account for the damage they inflicted upon the country.

The challenge is to execute it in a manner that the path into the future would incorporate mandatory benchmarks which would allow only those to go through towards leadership who are vested with unimpeachable character and integrity and a passion for serving the country, not their pockets alone. It is a huge challenge in times of institutionalised corruption, but a task which must be accomplished.

The writer is the special assistant to the PM on information, a political and security strategist, and the founder of the Regional Peace Institute.