Wednesday May 22, 2024

Trust and accountability

What makes some nations great and some nations fail? Britain occupies a small island off the coast of Europe and yet, for many centuries, it was the single most powerful country in the world.The normal answer to the question is, to use the Clintonite formula, ‘the economy, stupid’. But that

By Feisal Naqvi
April 30, 2015
What makes some nations great and some nations fail? Britain occupies a small island off the coast of Europe and yet, for many centuries, it was the single most powerful country in the world.
The normal answer to the question is, to use the Clintonite formula, ‘the economy, stupid’. But that only gets us so far. Why does Singapore have an economy bigger than that of Pakistan even though it is a city state smaller than Islamabad?
One answer to this question is given by the great political scientist Francis Fukuyama. His thesis is simple: countries which have higher levels of trust do much better than countries with lower levels of trust.
Fukuyama’s thesis is an interesting way to analyse Pakistan because what it reveals is that we are the epitome of a low trust society. Take our business communities. Chiniotis prefer to do business with other Chiniotis, Memons with other Memons and Ismailis with other Ismailis. Even within individual firms, fathers prefer to work with their sons and keep professionals at a safe distance. And within the father-son relationships, the norm is for the father to retain complete control over all major decisions until the dies or goes irretrievably senile. At the end of the day, we are a people that trust no one except ourselves.
I was reminded of all this by two recent events. The first was my friend Mosharraf Zaidi’s brilliant column on the murder of Sabeen Mahmud and the problem of ‘plausible accusability’. The second was the PTI’s goggle-eyed response to the demand by the judicial commission for actual proof of widespread rigging.
Mosharraf’s insight is that the state of Pakistan has degenerated into a condition where it is plausible to accuse anybody of anything. Was Sabeen Mahmud killed by intelligence agencies upset over her championing the cause of Balochistan? Or was she killed by RAW agents trying to malign Pakistan? Nobody knows.
Let me elaborate on his observation by making two further points.
The first point is that the problem is not just that nobody knows the answer today: the problem is that we will probably never know who killed her. Just like we will never know who killed Saleem Shehzad. Or Wali Muhammad. Or Parween Rehman. Or Benazir Bhutto. Or Omar Asghar Khan. Or Hakim Said. Or General Ziaul Haq. Or Liaquat Ali Khan.
The second point is that this factual limbo is very different from the equally fuzzy question as to whether or not the 2013 elections were rigged. Because so far as the elections are concerned, the PTI has now been called upon to either put up or shut up regarding its allegations of widespread rigging. And because even Imran Khan has indicated that he will accept the decision of the judicial commission without quibbling.
I do not know what the judicial commission will say but the Insaafians have not made a good start. After the judicial commission was announced, the PTI sent out a message to all of its Twitter fans, asking them to come forward with evidence of rigging. And on the first date of hearing, the learn’d counsel representing the PTI argued that since the commission is not really a court, hence the PTI was not really bound by the laws of evidence.
Many years ago I was asked by the senior counsel to whom I was apprenticed as to what I thought of a particular theory. My response was that it didn’t even pass the ‘giggle test’; in other words, it wasn’t even an argument that I could make with a straight face.
So far as I’m concerned, Imran Khan’s allegations of rigging – and that too as a result of a conspiracy masterminded by Justices Ramday and Iftikhar Chaudhary – fall in the giggle category. And yet we forget that for almost a year, our entire political system has been held hostage by this lunatic theory. We forget that on August 14 of last year, Imran Khan led a caravan of thousands to occupy the space in front of Parliament House in protest over these accusations of rigging. We forget the night of August 30 when, but for the intelligence and quick wit of the Islamabad police, those protesters would have succeeded in breaking into PM House. We forget that those protesters occupied and assaulted PTV Headquarters. We forget that since August 2014, PTI members of parliament have refused to attend debates but still found the time to collect their salaries.
And all for what? So that when push came to shove, the Insaafians shuffle their feet and ask if anybody on Twitter has any evidence of rigging? If we are not going to apply the laws of evidence then why do we need to have a judicial commission at all? Surely, Imran Khan’s word is enough. Especially when that word may be based upon a rumour influenced by a suggestion predicated on a delusion?
The point of all this is that accountability and finality matters. We heard for months about how the MQM was dead and how ‘they’ had decided that the time had come to bring Altaf Hussain to heel. Fortunately for us, we don’t have to guess the result of NA 246. It was declared by the Election Commission following the most closely scrutinised by-election in Pakistan’s history.
Similarly, we will no longer have to guess as to whether or not the 2013 election was rigged. Either the PTI will produce evidence or it will not. And either that evidence will stand up to critical scrutiny or it will not. But either way, at least this tamasha will be over.
But none of that accountability stretches into the shadows where our best and brightest are murdered; at least, not today. We have seen commissions deal with allegations of military involvement before. And yet, nobody knows who shot Hamid Mir. Just like nobody knows who killed Saleem Shehzad. And just like nobody knows why Osama Bin Ladin found Abbottabad to be so particularly hospitable a spot.
I have no illusions that any of this is going to change soon. We will continue to guess and wonder. But just on the off chance that somebody sensible is listening, let me say this: it is good if your enemies do not know whether or not you are responsible for wreaking havoc in their midst. It is good for your enemies to be riven with internal suspicions and divides. And it is good for your enemies to fear you.
But the soldiers of Pakistan serve the citizens of Pakistan. And it is not good for the citizens of Pakistan to fear their soldiers. Just like it is not good for Pakistanis to be riven with internal suspicions and divides. Just like it is not good if the citizens of Pakistan have no idea as to who is killing their own.
I have no reason to doubt the DG ISPR’s sincerity when he condemns the murder of Sabeen Mahmud. At a personal level, I very much doubt that our agencies had anything to do with her death. But in the absence of any independent accountability or trustworthy form of dispute resolution, all we are left with are his words. And words really don’t go that far.
The writer is an advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
Twitter: @laalshah