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March 21, 2017



Anti-corruption coup

All eyes are set on Supreme Court as everyone awaits a judgement on Panama leaks case. For the last eight months, the case hearing has dominated politics. Stakes are high for not only the parties involved – Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family, but also the main petitioners i.e. Imran Khan, Sheikh Rashid Ahmad and Sirajul Haq.


The outcome of the case in favour of either party would have its impact on the world’s movement against corruption, which picked up momentum in early 2000.It may be tip of an iceberg what had been reported on corruption in Pakistan, as many sectors accused of corruption are ‘untouchable’. Even Panama in Pakistan got prominence because premier’s daughter and sons were named in it.

How far corruption would be controlled if the verdict comes against PM and his family or how far it would damage petitioners if it bailed out Sharifs is not important. What is important is whether there will be a change of mindset against corruption at large, and will we be able to make all sectors accountable?

Supreme Court Judge and head of five-member bench, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, himself made two most important observations when the bench concluded the hearing and reserved the judgement, which itself raises anxiety about its outcome.

In many ways, it indicated that the judgement would be historic and would be remember for long time to come and that it would not be given in the light of the sentiments, but according to the law.

Laurence Cockcroft is a founder of the Transparency International, and Anne-Christine Wegner is a political scientist and anti-corruption analyst. They co-authored a book, Unmasked, which had not only exposed corruption in the West but also how Panama papers gave a new dimension to unearthing the secrecy jurisdiction.

Their research reached the conclusion that “Influence is bought, power is sold”.

In 2012-13, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) conducted an unprecedented investigation into accounts held in many of the world’s offshore centres, better defined as secrecy jurisdiction. It involved 86 journalists of 46 countries including Pakistan, who examined 2.5 million accounts of some 130,000 people, leading to publication of reports in world five most serious newspapers, revealed in the book.

The ICIJ coup unearthed the alleged corrupt magnates in April 2016, when it acquired a huge set of files from a legal company Mossack Fonseca, based in Panama, which were dubbed as Panama Papers, as it unearthed 11.5 million documents.

What was the most amazing part of this movement, according to the book, was that corruption was also linked with terrorism, terror financing, money-laundering, something which Pakistan is a victim of, and also fighting it.

Corruption around the world runs in trillions involving political and non-political sectors, but the rise in anti-corruption movement is not an old phenomena as compared to the corrupt practices.

In Pakistan, it started within the bureaucratic circles in the civil service in the 1960s, in the name of giving and seeking concessions, particularly plots and favours in cash or in kind. Establishing secret funds, not only within intelligence agencies but also in dozens of sectors including ministries, opened the floodgate of corruption.

Corruption remained under control and till mid 1970s had not polluted the political atmosphere. Some investigative journalists in Pakistan started highlighting issues like the smuggling of drugs and arms during Afghan war and with the arrival of millions of US dollars in the name of war or jihad against Soviet Union, the issue also got international attention.

Names of some of retired generals also appeared in the world media, but went un-noticed as the world’s attention was towards the Afghan war.

The biggest disservice to this nation was the use of hiring politicians through secret funds to dislodge one government or the other. The media too became its victim as huge money was spent on it through such funds. But, it’s Pakistani journalists who finally went to the court and if nothing else they succeeded in exposing the funds and their beneficiaries.

What we are witnessing today is unprecedented. Millions rather billions of rupees in cash are being recovered from houses of low-grade officials. If such amount could be recovered from grade-16 or 18 officers, it would be difficult to imagine about higher grades.

One of my friends living in England and working in a banking sector revealed that the amount of money Pakistanis had kept abroad, if unearthed would shake up Pakistan.

While the anti-corruption movement around the world had touched massive corruption at all levels from politics to defence, from construction to banking, from police to judiciary, it is the media around the world which too has been corrupted at some level. But, at the same time, media is the force which played a significant role in exposing corruption.

While there had been attempts to expose corrupt rulers, at times establishment only used and fed stories for the purpose of getting political mileage.

For the first time in 1989, money from secret funds was used in Pakistan to move and block the vote of no-confidence against the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif, and hence the ‘Midnight Jackal’ story hitting the headlines.

It was followed by 1990 elections which, for the first time, publicly exposed how money made through corruption is used as an organised crime. It was also for the first time that the world came to know how banks could be used for corruption. Thanks to Air Marshal (retd) Asghar Khan, one of the most honest politicians, moving the Supreme Court with a simple question: is there a political cell in the ISI?

This one question took almost 10 years to get the answer and, as a consequence, the former ISI chief, Lt-Gen (retd) Asad Durrani admitting through an affidavit that over 90 million rupees were distributed among the opposition leaders of Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI), and some journalists including editors also. The SC finally gave its verdict in the famous Mehran Bank case, declaring 1990 elections as rigged.

Similarly, huge money allegedly from secret funds of Intelligence Bureau were used during Governor’s Rule in Punjab in 2009.The ICIJ reinforced coup in April 2016, when it acquired a huge set of files from the legal company, based in Panama, it said.

Pakistan ranked four in Asia’s most corrupt countries, with India on top of the list, something which may satisfy us. But, if we still fail to introduce a strong check-and-balance system, we could stay among the leading most corrupt nations.

This writer is a senior columnist and analyst of Geo, The News and Jang.

Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO