Money Matters

Catching the corrupt

Money Matters
By Zeeshan Haider
Mon, 02, 17

FOCUS

The hearing into the Panama Papers petitions seeking disqualification of prime minister has completed and now the nation is impassionedly waiting for the verdict.

Irrespective of who wins or who loses the case, the marathon proceedings spanned over four months have exposed the inherent weaknesses and ineffectiveness of the state institutions which are meant to check corruption in the country.

The heads of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) were grilled for hours by the five-member bench seeking their help in probing the matters relating to the case that could help the court in decision-making, but they refused to budge, citing legal constraints.

The attitude of the anti-corruption bosses forced a judge on the bench to frustratingly declare the death of the NAB, state’s top body entrusted to check corruption.

Corruption has now become one of the major issues in international politics and recently there have been growing calls for this scourge to be checked effectively.

The recent political crises in several countries like South Korea, Israel, and South Africa show that common people’s anxiety and frustration over malpractices of their ruling elite are fast growing.

Moreover, there are increasing evidences that there are strong linkages between corruption and terrorism at the international level.

The Transparency International recently issued a report warning that the so-called Islamic State (IS) or Daesh would never be defeated unless the corrupt conditions that help it to thrive are properly addressed.

The report titled “The Big Spin” argued that corruption has become an easy tool in the hands of Daesh to radicalise people by presenting itself as the antidote while conveniently ignoring its own dishonest activities.

“Corruption is a rallying cry, an enabler and a key modus operandi for IS,” Katherine Dixon, director of the defence and security wing of the London-based group, said. “The failure to grasp this undermines efforts to tackle the rise of violent extremism.”

The report accuses the Western governments, including the United States and the United Kingdom, of ignoring the fact that corruption is the major driver towards terrorism.

“Corruption is the most powerful weapon in the armoury of violent extremism,” the report said.

According to the Transparency International report, extremist groups draw on deep public anger at the abuse of power as a means to radicalise and recruit, and to deepen sectarian divisions.

It cited the situation in Afghanistan where Taliban capitalised on people’s anger over rampant corruption in judiciary which failed to deliver justice and promised people to provide justice and peace to them through their distorted version of religion.

“Government corruption, not religious radicalism, was the movement’s greatest recruitment tool,” it added.

Moreover, it said corruption in state institutions is a practical facilitator for extremist groups.

“Links to organised crime on one side and to corrupt officials on the other facilitate financial and arms flows,” the report said, and referred to Libya and Iraq where the operations of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) relied on smuggling, criminality (including human trafficking) and corruption of officials, even as they portray themselves as an alternative to the abusive, corrupt systems in power.

“Corruption hollows out state institutions that could and should check extremist forces, especially as they resort to violence,” the report said.

The research report dwelt on a number of themes used by the Daesh to recruit people.

In social media posts, for example, the terrorist group highlighted systematic corruption – including nepotism and bribery – while presenting itself as a provider of security, justice and welfare.

The group also plugs into a sense of discrimination felt by marginalised segments of the society and suggests the west and its allies are complicit in corruption.

It said corruption has physically weakened some state institutions in Iraq and it was the main reason behind its failure to retake the parts of country seized by Daesh.

“Corruption is a real security threat, more than just a means for elites to line their pockets. In the end corrupt governments by fuelling public anger and undermining institutions are the architects of their own security crises,” it added.

Though the situation in Pakistan and the Middle Eastern countries like Iraq are different, if we fail to take timely measures to check the common man’s frustration over these depravities, his anger could boil into a popular movement against the ruling elite.

In Pakistan, the geneses of corruption and terrorism are different from the Middle Eastern countries as they were mainly governed by dictators and authoritarian rulers for decades who would not tolerate even a minor dissent. It is for this reason that when they were toppled, there was a big vacuum to fill in as they had not allowed an alternate leadership to grow. The power vacuum, therefore, was quickly filled by the extremist groups like Daesh and al Qaeda.

Pakistan too had been ruled by military leaders but it has a vibrant society which even under a military dictator has prospered intellectually.

In the Middle Eastern societies, the militancy made its foothold to fill in the political void created by departure of their despotic rulers but in Pakistan militant groups were nurtured by dictators to counterweight political parties and also to further their foreign and security policy.

Therefore, the terrorist groups at their birth did not have any direct link with corruption nor had anything to do with people’s anger over dictatorial rules.

However, over the years, it seems a nexus has been emerging between corruption and terrorism. Our home-grown militant groups have been very active to forge ties with their counterparts in the Middle East in recent years.

In view of this unholy relationship, there are growing signs that these militant groups are now following in the footsteps of the international terror groups to raise funds through corrupt and criminal activities to finance their operations.

That is why a big number of incidents of violence, kidnappings for ransom, money extortion, land grabbing, money laundering and smuggling in recent years was reported to be linked to the terror groups.

Pakistani security forces have been doing a commendable job to dismantle militant infrastructure in the country in their war against terrorism. They have rendered tremendous sacrifices to purge our homeland of this menace.

However, military action alone could not alone achieve the objective of cleansing Pakistan of extremist forces. Breaking of the nexus between the extremist groups and corruption is a major challenge for our security agencies which is vital to take our war on extremism to its logical conclusion.

In order to achieve this objective, we have to make our anti-corruption entities more powerful and effective.

Previously, anti-corruption bodies like NAB and Ehtesab (accountability) Bureau were used by the military rulers to victimise politicians and by the political governments to harass their opponents, this is why the menace has pervaded through our body politic like a cancer.

In Pakistan, powerful lobbies have carried out corrupt practices with impunity and without any fear of accountability.

But time has come for Pakistan to take effective measures to check this menace. There should be a no-holds-barred, ruthless and across-the-board accountability process which should cover entire ruling elite and there should be no “holy cows” exempt from this process.

Corruption, right now, could be described as a major social evil, but it has the potential of turning into a big security threat if effective measures were not taken to check its unabated growth.

Therefore, our ruling elite must understand that time is fast running out of their hands. They must take steps to put in place a credible and genuine accountability process or stand ready to face public wrath as being witnessed in several parts of the world.

The writer is a senior journalist based in Islamabad