“The world is a dangerous place to live not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”
— Albert Einstein
In the wake of the Panama Papers, the country is immersed in a perpetual clamour: will the corrupt finally face the dragnet of accountability, or will they, yet again, be able to defeat the instruments of justice? Will the people go through another phase of much sound and fury, ultimately signifying nothing?
By writing the letter to the chief justice to head the prospective commission, the prime minister has tried to give the impression that he is willing to be held accountable. In reality, this move is shrouded in a million sub-moves that will obliterate the prospect of justice, at least for the foreseeable future.
The vast repertoire of investigations to be conducted by the commission raises scepticism regarding the real intentions of the incumbents. Principally, there cannot be any reservations regarding the need to investigate all kinds of crimes committed in the country, but not if the proposed mechanisms are meant to render the entire process of accountability suspect and untenable.
For example, one of the areas that the prospective commission will look into is the writing off of bank loans using political influence. This is a good case to be investigated, but need it be passed on to the commission to probe? Understandably, the complete record of all such written-off loans is already available at the State Bank and other financial institutions, which may have been involved in this corrupt practice under the patronage of practically all governments that ruled this hapless country.
What is, therefore, needed is not any further enquiry, but political will on the part of the incumbents to order the prosecution of all such people. Handing it over to the commission will be an attempt to push it under the rug.
Similarly, most of the information pertaining to the offshore companies owned by Pakistanis is already available. Instead of wasting precious time on further investigation, the need, again, is to order the prosecution of such people, if they have violated any law of the land.
Constituting a commission under the Code of Civil Procedure renders it absolutely toothless, with practically no real powers to follow up on its findings in terms of punishing the guilty. Furthermore, in its working, the commission will be totally dependent on the goodwill of people who are in the service of the rulers and institutions that are controlled by the functionaries of the government. So, what is really happening?
A not-so-subtle strategy is on the anvil to confuse matters beyond action. This has already begun to unfurl, in an attempt to politicise connectivity with crime, thus raising the hydra of alleged injustice towards the ruling family. A host of paid advertisements are appearing in the media, purporting to the innocence of the ruling oligarchy and also casting aspersions on the motives of the opposition in demanding accountability.
Let it also be said that no opposition party is genuinely interested in indiscriminate, across-the-board accountability, as numerous skeletons are hidden in their closets as well. However, what they appear to be interested in at this stage is building pressure on the incumbents to make them look bad, which they could then cash in during their campaign for the 2018 elections.
This is a smart move that has not gone down well with the ruling hierarchy, which has unleashed all the weapons in their command, in a robust defence of their performance and also their perceived innocence. This is effectively laced with statements that have been rebutted by the principals, like the one demanding an apology from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
It is yet to be seen whether the chief justice agrees to head a toothless commission, like the one envisioned in the letter written to him, and run the risk of losing credibility for not doing what really is undoable. He could either refuse to head any such commission altogether, or write to the government stating his own recommendations for the formulation of an effective commission, which would be fully empowered to undertake the task of accountability.
Meanwhile, the opposition parties seem headed towards building a consensus regarding their demands for the constitution of the commission. They want to address accountability in two phases: first looking into the allegations against the prime minister’s family, as contained in the Panama Papers, and then be taking stock of the allegations regarding other financial irregularities committed by various stakeholders. The prospects of this being accepted by the ruling elite are negligible.
So, do we have a political confrontation in the making? The commonality of most of the political parties regarding the allegations of corruption cannot be denied. Consequently, there is a limit to how much the opposition parties can try to stretch the government in their bid for political and electoral gains. Let’s not forget that the government is fully aware of their misdemeanours, but it may not want to unravel the hydra, as it would also be its ultimate victim. Such a move can only be an act of desperation, which is unlikely to happen given the portents it may carry for the entire political elite.
After this phase of bonhomie among the opposition parties, they are likely to break apart and embark on their respective agendas, focussed on the next elections. Agitation can be a possible component of this phase, which can influence the outcome of the next visit to the hustings, but corruption is likely to remain buried under the debris of gross misconduct.
The writer is a political andsecurity strategist, and heads theIslamabad-based think tank,
Regional Peace Institute.