“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that, in the process, he doesn’t become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back at you.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
What should one make of the COAS’ recent prognosis regarding the elimination of corruption as a pre-requisite for bringing peace to the country? In an unequivocal statement, he said: “The ongoing war against terrorism and extremism cannot bring enduring peace and stability unless the menace of corruption is uprooted”. He went on to say that the armed forces will fully support any meaningful effort initiated in this regard.
Did General Raheel Sharif say all this because he thought that, first, corruption was endemic in the country and could endanger the prospect of peace? And, second, that the institutions mandated to fighting the menace had all but failed in doing so? And what about its timing – when the prime minister is already reeling under the weight of the Panama Leaks?
The statement sent the entire political elite in a spin. The government’s spokespersons, one and all, claimed that elimination of corruption was part of the government’s agenda. The opposition was more forthcoming in its support for the general’s statement, saying that the entire nation would back the military playing a role in battling the scourge.
In the past, too, the voice against corruption has been raised at multiple forums, but nothing by way of either formulating effective laws or a transparent and efficient remedial system has been put in place to fight the malady. Instead, the focus has been more on finding ever new ways and methods for criminals to escape the dragnet of justice. This has been achieved by following a systematic process of weakening the institutions through appointment of corrupt people as their heads and doing little by way of improving the laws to catch white-collar crime.
The Panama Papers have yet again brought to light the spread of this malady. Because the prime minister’s family was reportedly involved in maintaining offshore companies which owned properties allegedly secured with money skimmed out of Pakistan, a concerted effort was immediately unleashed to control its lurking damage. In overkill, one too many entered the arena in an effort to save the king, giving accounts that were found to be mutually contradictory.
The British Virgin Islands-based companies so far identified to be allegedly owned by the prime minister’s children include Nescoll Limited, Nielson Enterprises and Hangon Property Holdings Limited. The ownership of the companies has been publicly acknowledged by one of his sons. These companies have been used to acquire foreign assets by channelling funds out of Pakistan which were not recorded in the financial statements of the prime minister, thus greatly damaging his moral and political credentials.
There is no denying the fact that corruption is rampant in the country. Every leader who has ascended the throne has tried to use the accountability dragnet to pressurise the opposition, but there has been no genuine attempt to cleanse the country of the scourge. Because of a thoroughly corrupt judicial system, little by way of holding the criminals accountable has been achieved. Instead, the alleged criminals have used these allegations as a political gambit to secure sympathy and enlarge their vote bank.
The principal responsibility for addressing this malady rests with the ruling political leadership. Instead of offering himself for accountability through an open and transparent process, the prime minister alleged that he and his family were being targeted for political reasons. This did not help ease pressure on him and the opposition continued demanding a probe by a commission headed by the chief justice. The government wanted a retired judge to probe the matter and the one it shortlisted turned out to be a sympathiser of the ruling party.
But what of the general’s invocation to clean the stables? The civil-military balance in Pakistan has always been under the scanner and attracts a fair bit of regular comment from pundits across divides. While the military has been in command of most of the key developments in the country through its three plus one tenures, it has also nurtured the nurseries where most of the so-called political stalwarts took root. From Z A Bhutto to the current prime minister, all have been among the political progeny of the military rulers.
Simultaneously, we have seen the emergence of a dictatorial mindset cloaked in democratic apparel. This mindset could be managed only if we had credible political leadership which was able to resist the twin-temptation of graft and undiluted power. That, unfortunately, is not the case. Instead, practically all our political leaders are tainted with an indelible stigma of multifaceted corruption, graphic accounts of which are stored in the right places and readily accessible as and when there is even a hint of resistance. The institutions are aware of it. So, there is a lingering pretence of bonhomie among the two institutions painfully broadcast by the political elite at every nondescript opportunity.
Despite grandiose proclamations, my worry is that this will pass too. Corruption is so endemic here that practically every living being is guilty of the crime. They all get together to save their complicit friends. What, however, cannot be brushed away is the danger this malady poses to the state edifice, which may crumble under its increasing weight. There is no escaping this reality.
The writer heads the Regional Peace Institute, Islamabad.