The mighty unaccountable

January 26,2017

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If there is one core problem writ large within our context it would be the exercise of unaccountable authority by Pakistan’s ruling elite. There are many stories – ranging from the allotment of around 868 kanals of land to the former army chief to the failure of the prime minister’s family to explain the money trail that led to the purchase of their four Mayfair flats to the abduction of the four bloggers in early January.

The silence over the bloggers is deafening. Two weeks after the minister of interior and the home minister of Punjab promised to inform the public about the whereabouts of the missing bloggers, all we have is a dangerous and continuous hate-campaign against the missing bloggers and against the activists demanding that the government produce the missing bloggers. The inquiry committee set up by the interior minister is still unable to produce any results. The bloggers have been sucked into some dark hole. No reference to any law or to any courts is being made by the government or the state agencies, which seem to have nabbed these bloggers.  

On the critical Panama Papers case, the money trail leading to the purchase of the Mayfair flats is still missing as is a satisfactory response to questions about the year of purchase and the overall discrepancy between earnings and assets. The broad thrust from the family regarding purchase of the property is that it was bought via earnings from the family business. However, details of the money trail are generally missing since there was hardly any documentation in the 1970s and 1980s. Response from the PM’s children, along with documentation, is still awaited. After the prime minister conceded to family ownership of the London properties, the only question that remains of interest for the public is: what was the source of funds used for their purchase? This question is critical simply because the PM’s children were not old enough to have earned the kind of money required to purchase such expensive property. 

Reports regarding dates of purchase of the London properties – and specifically of Maryam Nawaz being the alleged beneficiary of this property – have appeared in the foreign press, in press releases and documentation of the International Centre for Journalists (ICFJ) and a report by the British Virgin Island Financial Investigation Agency. However, the prime minister’s family has not directly contested these reports by sending off legal notices to either the news agencies or to ICFJ and FIA. 

For now, the legal battle continues within the courts where the authenticity of this documentation seems to still be in question. The onus of delivering a just verdict in this case is obviously on the Supreme Court. Under the constitution, the SC enjoys special and extraordinary powers so as to deliver complete justice. There are no jurisdictional and procedural restrictions that apply to the apex court.

Outside the court, however, the political battle is brewing. After PTI leaders argue their case outside the courts and declare a verdict against the PM, PML-N leaders start off vowing to avenge any wrongdoing against their elected leader. One leader has repeatedly said that in the past the courts have sent an elected leader to the gallows while another leader has vowed to spill his own blood in the service and loyalty of his leader. Does this amount to veiled threats?

And in all this ruckus will the process of justice move ahead, undeterred and unfettered by fear? Will justice be done? On the question of holding its powerful accountable, Pakistan’s past record is hopeless – whether on those who surrendered in Dhaka, those who let American marines land in Abbottabad to get OBL, those who stashed away millions in Swiss accounts or those responsible for the blunder in Kargil .

Meanwhile, among the unaccountable are also archaic practices of handing down huge tracts of land. For example, on the 868 kanals of land given to Gen (r) Raheel Sharif some quarters justified the act by saying that bureaucrats also get two kanals of land. Scale is critical in all the problems we discuss – 868 vs 2 kanals. This archaic land allocation policy must be reviewed. 

There are other areas where much needs to be done. For example, the sanctity of the court room needs to be upheld. In some instances, court room sanctity and the respect of judges appear to have been compromised. The sheer helplessness of a judge when faced with impudent behaviour is a sign of the rot that needs to be stemmed.

One CJ had attempted to set order in the judicial system, by trying to ensure that lawyers were disciplined. He, however, had to reframe his bold reformist agenda to the tune of pragmatism. On the other end of the spectrum is the August 26, 2016 judgement of the Supreme Court declaring illegal several Islamabad High Court appointments. A reference was subsequently filed in the end of December 2016 in the Supreme Judicial Council against a serving Islamabad High Court judge. The sitting judge has been charged with the alleged failure to uphold the dignity of the court.

These stories of dysfunctionality are critical in the impact that they have on the overall environment in which the people of Pakistan live their lives and pursue their dreams within the broad framework that the federal and provincial governments and the judiciary lead and manage. What falls within this framework are administrative efficiency, efficient systems of law-enforcement and justice and people-friendly policies. Together they constitute the living context of every Pakistani citizen and as priority issues for public discussion their significance cannot be over-emphasised.

The constant refrain from many friends, including those in government, remains the same irrespective of who is in power – why don’t you write about positive stories? On a WhatsApp group following discussions on the Panama case, the missing bloggers, the obnoxious and vulgar comments of a PPP provincial minister etc, a distraught minister complained of peoples’ negativity. Why on earth is nobody discussing how well the Pakistan Stock Exchange is doing, he queried. He was right; the PSE had almost hit 50,000 points for the first time in three years.

But what must capture our attention above all else is the continuing failure in Pakistan to hold the powerful accountable. Names, parties and institutions don’t matter. We must finally begin somewhere, and then continue onwards.

The writer is a senior journalist.


Twitter: nasimzehra


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