Noting that Pakistan’s public debt remained very high, the interest bill being higher at current debt level than the country’s entire development budget, IMF President Christine Lagarde pointedly said that the perception of corruption in Pakistan was hurting its prospects to grow. Addressing our immediate political crisis inadvertently (or was it deliberate?), the IMF President pointed out that “Panama, Bahama leaks or whatever, the truth must come out”. Given continuing illicit dealings and blatant tax evasion by our successive rulers. Lagarde said that a combination of transparency and accountability are the keys to defeating corruption and avoid protest thereof. Visiting Pakistan a day or so later, the ADB President Takehiko Nakao echoed the IMF President, “to continue fighting corruption, tax avoidance and money-laundering”. Is the Supreme Court (SC) listening?
No meaningful steps were taken to investigate the Panama Papers revelations. At the very least National Accountability Bureau (NAB) failed to use its statutory powers to ascertain from those named in the Panama Papers why they were so named. The “plea bargain” scam gave NAB officials arbitrary powers to allow the corrupt to escape imprisonment. The offenders could ever resume their posts after returning some of the money, in most cases while not even returning all the money they had committed to, they resumed their posts, to loot again without making the same mistakes that caught them out earlier. Given this reasoning a robber should therefore go scot-free by returning a part of his loot. The SC must be commended for restraining Chairman NAB from accepting voluntary return of embezzled money by offenders.
What initially started out as a collective political drive for accountability was reduced to a one-party struggle by PTI till very recently. PAT’s inclusion gives a much needed boost to the “Bandh”. Far more disturbing is Lal Masjid Maulana Aziz’s support, this increases the potential for violence. Not taking part in PTI’s Nov 2 lockdown, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Senator Aitzaz Ahsan supported the process of accountability, beginning with the Prime Minister and his family.
Instead of pragmatically resolving the issue politically, PML (N) seems bent on a confrontation course with the PTI. Allocating Rs 680 million for 25,000 personnel of law-enforcement agencies requisitioned from other provinces and AJK, the government has drastically enhanced Islamabad police’s anti-riot capability Federal ministers have hinted arresting PTI leaders and workers, this could lead to bloodshed in the streets. Intervention to prevent anarchy could then become a self-fulfilling prophecy for the PML (N). Or what they really want is to become political martyrs for an early elections?
Imran Khan and Jahangir Tareen received notices from the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to appear on Nov 2 in connection with the disqualification references filed against them by National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq. Not surprisingly he shelved references against the PM. The timing is seen as a farcical attempt by ECP to throw a spanner in the PTI’s plans. Belatedly admitting he and his family have used offshore companies to acquire foreign assets which he still insists is not illegal. So why evade an enquiry? Will the SC punish without exception those resisting an inquiry into off-shore accounts by various delaying tactics? And the individuals in government entities avoiding making one? The Panama Leaks have left the PM shaky on moral grounds. The government’s problems have been compounded by battling to keep a semblance of control over domestic security and foreign policy matters. The terrorist attack on the Police Academy in Quetta alongwith Indians firing along the LOC and the Indo-Pak working boundary is perceived as attempts by Pakistan’s enemies to render indirect support to the ruling regime by keeping the Armed Forces and LEAs off his back.
Corruption being a very real and a direct threat to Pakistan’s national security, Gen. Raheel Shareef’s statement about zero-sum tolerance towards corruption as well as accountability “across the board” early this year was highly significant. The recent concocted media report about some members of the Federal Cabinet exhorting the senior Army hierarchy not to shield terrorists because it has “isolated Pakistan in the world” has only served to force-multiply remarkably similar concoctions damaging the Armed Forces and Pakistan being propagated by Indian PM Modi internationally at the highest government levels. His efforts to declare Pakistan a “mothership” of terrorism were badly frustrated at the BRIC Summit in Goa. While government dismissed the leak as “not only speculative but misleading and factually incorrect”, some insider did plant the falsified information. Rumors indicate an immature “non-state actor” from within the PML (N) hierarchy being over-enthusiastic without realizing the consequences of the traitorous fabrication putting the Army under pressure. While a Federal Minister reportedly has loyally agreed to being made a “sacrificial lamb” for the Sharif family, a senior bureaucrat has threatened to turn “approver” if forced to do so. How will the SC protect the khakis from being defamed by treasonable planted stories?
The SC recently issued “Sahib, Bibi aur Ghulam” notices for PM Nawaz Sharif, his daughter, son and son-in-law and others, seeking just a day before the “Bandh” on Nov 1 to hear petitions in the matter of the “Panama Papers”,. The court asserted that it would intervene if civilian rights were not being protected. Given reasonable doubt the Honorable Justices must act beyond their Courtroom rhetoric. With the government’s attitude towards resolving the Panama Papers expose non-serious, even flippant, SC can seize a unique opportunity for saving the country from spiraling into a bigger crisis. In a unique example of self-accountability, a well-respected SC judge recently resigned for making wrongful appointments in his previous capacity. Strangely enough almost all those in government enthusiastically defending the regime both in the electronic and print media are Musharraf’s loyalists. Their line of attack is a giveaway, instead of clarifying Nawaz Sharif’s innocence, they attack Imran Khan as corrupt, tacitly admitting the PM’s guilt.
Imran Khan says that since the Army was being increasingly isolated by Nawaz Sharif, any ‘third-party intervention’ would be his fault. Exploiting the government-Army rift is extremely naïve, Imran will not fill the void created by the PM’s ouster. Moreover it supports the government’s narrative of third parties helping Imran. While military intervention may be the solution of last resort, Martial Law is really no solution. With the government taking measures indirectly helping Imran becoming successful bringing the capital to a total standstill, the economy will take a significant hit. The government is hoping to ride out the “Bandh Politics” and eventually it will be corruption as usual. Or will it?
The writer is a defense and security analyst.