How Accountability in Pakistan can be realized

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How Accountability in Pakistan can be realized

Muhammad Arif

Chairman Centre of Advisory Services for Islamic Banking and Finance (CAIF), Former Head of FSCD SBP, Former Head of Research Arif Habib Investments and Member IFSB Task Force for development of Islamic Money Market, Former Member of Access to Justice Fund Supreme Court of Pakistan.

Present government of PTI is focused on one point agenda i.e. eradicating corruption through accountability for all. As for their view, all woes of Pakistan can be settled through this process including serious economic issues of Pakistan. They say that by doing this even poverty can be alleviated and people can be made prosperous, but how this is the main question today.

The facts are that today country’s people are unable to access drinking water. Their numbers have increased to a shocking 84 percent, with 40 percent of the population dying of waterborne, preventable diseases. On top of that, almost five million youth are entering the job market annually, with the need to create an additional 1.5 million jobs just to keep up. Hundreds of innocent people are passing their days in the jail and hundreds are missing with no clue. On the local level, the nexus of patronage and police high-handedness has made ordinary people impossible to access justice.

Some circles say that Prime Ministers, or even popular leaders, have never been held accountable. But look for Liaquat Ali Khan case who was shot dead. Look for Z A Bhutto’s case who was hanged. Look for Benazir case who was shot dead. Look for Nawaz Sharif who was exiled, put behind the bars and is now under trial. If punishing prime ministers is a criterion than one can compare Pakistan to established democracies and can claim that we have more accountability for elected officials than any other country, making us one of the most pro-people systems in the world. This would, however, be a statement that not even the most enthusiastic nationalists would like to make. For Pakistan’s record of holding elected officials is intertwined with a peculiar trajectory; that of the complete impunity of unelected officials, in particular the military and the judiciary.

We now need to resolve this paradox. Despite repeatedly undergoing the ritual of deposing prime ministers, we cannot claim that we have moved closer to a culture of across-the-board accountability, since the deep state remains outside the ambit of any such process.

The political ramifications of such accountability have been even more dubious. In a society where abuse of public authority is a norm, and industrial development is linked to cronyism, it is not hard to indict large sections of the elite (and upper middle classes) of bending the law for personal benefits.

This reality is compounded by the fact that the deep state not only enjoys impunity for itself, but also has the power to offer a clean chit to anyone among this class who chooses to function under its ambit. In the 1960s, General Ayub Khan was able to set up his own faction of the Muslim League by enticing political bigwigs with lucrative offers of patronage, all in the name of fighting corruption. General Ziaul Haq also pardoned and consequently included a number of political heavyweights in his government by offering access to government resources. Even the Sharif family was one such household that obtained immense financial benefits for its closeness to the Zia regime.

The latest round of ‘good governance’ was of course witnessed under the Musharraf regime, where NAB was used to fulfill the unfinished task of cleaning Pakistan from the corruption of the two major parties. The process, however, turned into a farce when Musharraf needed political allies to stabilize his government. Thus, a large number of PML-N, and later PPP, members were cajoled into a pro-Musharraf coalition, with not only corruption cases against them dropped, but by also being offered high posts in the cabinet.

Today the same thing is being repeated and most of the elites who were with PPP or PML N are now sitting on the PTI benches making themselves immune to come under accountability process. The NAB who is very quick to take actions against Nawaz Sharif family from its elders to new born babies is totally silent on these people.

Hence the entanglement between accountability and impunity is extended or withdrawn to different actors are based as part of a political calculation. It implies that rather than being an attempt to eradicate corruption, accountability in Pakistan has been, and remains, a technique of governance. It is a method through which threats, selective action and conditional pardons are put into effect.

Over the past 72 years, each phase of accountability has come with proclamations suggesting that at least the process has begun and will eventually deepen. Yet, instead of a beginning, it ends up being part of a repetition, in which even greater, well-entrenched and sacred elites continue to reproduce their own privileges.

The demands for accountability, and the egalitarian impulse such demands express, can be realized only when applied across the board without exceptions for any sacred cows. The destinies of nations cannot be changed without such principled, but uncomfortable decisions. Let us hope for the better.

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