General Raheel Sharif’s recent call for across-the-board accountability to uproot corruption followed by the sacking of senior army officers are timely measures taken at a critical moment in Pakistan’s history. Financial corruption may not be the cause of terrorism but it has established a symbiotic link with terrorism over the years. It is not only a domestic political issue but is linked to security. The COAS is within his rights to air concern publicly at a time when the army is fighting a war while the civilian leadership appears to lack the political will to implement NAP.
With India involved in using terrorist proxies to destabilise Pakistan, the issue of corruption has become ever more important. India is moving full steam towards realising its goal of regional hegemony leading to world power status. The CPEC initiative has added substantially to its worries because the project can potentially change the regional strategic setting, empower Pakistan and in the process render India’s grand strategy and force build up out of sync with reality. India is not ready for the new paradigm in which Pakistan can play a pivotal role.
India’s current posture and policy against Pakistan includes an all-out effort to derail the CPEC project. They are employing all means necessary short of an all-out war: subversion; sabotage; offensive terrorism and proxy war to destabilise Pakistan and to deter China from attaining a larger presence in the Indian Ocean region. Money and bribery play a big role in this effort.
Our civilian policymakers came out with a ‘Strategic Vision of Pakistan’s Foreign Policy’ in 2014, which calls for improving ties with India through ‘cooperation and not confrontation’. The fact is that ties can only improve if India, the bigger country, genuinely wants to resolve outstanding issues. Under the current circumstances they are unlikely to resort to conflict resolution whether through a sincere dialogue or mutually profitable economic initiatives.
The CPEC is a long-term project that has the potential to benefit not only Pakistan but the entire region. It is not just an economic opportunity but is pivotal to our security. For this to materialise, however, the nexus between corruption and terrorism – nurtured by domestic and foreign actors – has to be broken decisively and in the shortest possible time.
Black money nourishes terrorism. Terror networks in Fata and KP, subversive activities in Balochistan, target killing and extortion in Karachi and criminal actions of the likes of Chotu in southern Punjab thrive on black money.
To ensure a secure environment the state has to continue to challenge and uproot terrorism wherever it thrives and whatever its form. So far only one state institution – the military – is serious about this war.
That said, corruption at various levels has seeped into Pakistani society to the point of becoming a norm. The military is no exception – especially since Ziaul Haq.
Moreover, the army’s support for ideological proxies has over the years perpetuated a ‘religious economy’, with certain militant groups increasing their clout and wealth. This too falls within corruption. These groups have to be reined in and brought within the ambit of accountability if the ongoing war is to be won decisively.
The military has an internal mechanism of accountability that works. It is an ongoing process that does not always make headlines. The recent sacking of senior officers is in the news because extraordinary times have called for extraordinary measures.
In response what does the civilian leadership have to show for themselves? NAB the handmaiden or FIA the compliant? Manufactured inquiry commissions or politically motivated parliamentary committees?
Or opening the Pandora’s box by writing to the Supreme Court to investigate not the main issue of the Panama Papers but the whole sordid saga of corruption since Adam?
Lest we forget, corruption is not only about bribery and embezzlement. Deliberately failing to take the right decision at the right time by our leaders for the integrity and security of Pakistan is another insidious form of corruption.
A major surgery is required to improve our institutions in order to initiate a genuine process of accountability. The military, the media and the rest of the civil society, therefore, must continue to build pressure on political actors to reform civilian institutions. Above all, the superior judiciary is fully capable of playing a crucial role in reinforcing the democratic process.
The Panama Papers have exploded at such an opportune moment that the more religiously inclined could perceive it as divine intervention. But divine intervention or not, the Panama Papers certainly offer Pakistan the opportunity to take concrete steps to put the accountability wagon on the fast track.
Domestic reforms have to work alongside a proactive foreign policy. A full-time Pakistani foreign minister is badly needed. Our foreign policy must be brought in line with the unfolding environment. We have very few friends and we must ensure that we improve and sustain our relations with them. China is of course vital. Relations with Russia have to be expanded and strengthened and we must focus on improving our ties with Iran, a country led by some very smart people.
Sushma Swaraj’s recent antics in Tehran will not change much. There is no need for paranoia over Indian investment in Chabahar. Gwadar and Chabahar are complementary rather than competitive ports – with Gwadar being the shorter and more accessible route for the Chinese. Whatever infrastructure India is investing in will come in handy once the CPEC is operational. Both Iran and Pakistan will benefit.
At the domestic front, the government must focus on infrastructure and human resource development in Balochistan, the coast and Gwadar by maximising investment. Balochistan’s industrial and export potential must be expanded and the locals must be meaningfully involved in the process. All players have to play for the team instead of depending entirely on the $46 billion investments that China has pledged.
For Pakistan failure is not an option. Institutionalised corruption must be challenged and brought under control. The security and integrity of Pakistan and the welfare of its teeming millions depends on it. So does the future of democracy.
Farooq Rashid is a retired vice admiral. Talat Farooq is Hon Research Fellow
Birmingham University, UK and visiting lecturer Meliksah University, Turkey.