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January 17, 2021

Corruption positivities


January 17, 2021

A week that began with a power outage that pushed the entire country into darkness has brought into limelight some stark realities of Pakistan. A number of issues have coalesced into a rising wave of expectations and apprehensions. There is a sense that something big is in the works.

To begin with, Broadsheet’s revelations have come almost out of nowhere. This saga has injected a variation in Imran Khan’s signature tune on corruption. Ghosts from the past are moving to the centre of the stage.

The foreign funding case of the ruling PTI has finally come alive, with the party blaming its agent in the United States for ‘illegal funding’. And a resignation from a post by a member of the federal cabinet has underlined a lack of harmony in the prime minister’s team.

While there were some hints of the opposition beginning to lose its steam, it is set to regain its momentum with a protest outside the offices of the Election Commission of Pakistan in Islamabad on January 19 – day after tomorrow – to demand an immediate decision on the PTI’s foreign funding case.

There are some other developments that are not a source of comfort for the ruling party, including the trend in the rise of prices and the gas shortage. But one incident on Friday particularly became a source of national embarrassment and an additional hit at the quality of this government’s governance. A PIA Boeing 777 was impounded in Kuala Lumpur by the Malaysian authorities on the orders of a local court for non-payment of lease dues.

Sadly, PIA and our aviation authorities have repeatedly made headlines for all the wrong reasons. Another news this week was that PIA’s flights to China were blocked for a given period after ten passengers flying to China were found to be Covid-19 positive. Our national carrier is still not flying to European destinations in the aftermath of that statement by Federal Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan that out of around 860 pilots of our airlines, 260 held fraudulent licenses.

In any case, it is the Broadsheet story that has confronted Pakistan, in a manner, with its moment of truth. The focus is on high corruption in politics and its accountability. Imran Khan has professedly invested all his political capital in fighting corruption and his specific targets are parties led by Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari that were in power in the most recent past.

In fact, his campaign against the leaders of the PML-N and the PPP has become an obsession with pathological undertones. His refrain is that he will not give them an NRO, whatever it may mean. At the same time that NAB has mobilised its forces against these leaders, Imran’s spokespersons, who constitute a veritable brigade, are fixated on blaming the opposition for anything that goes wrong, even when the national power grid breaks down in January 2021.

But questions that have come out of the Broadsheet episode and from the interviews of its owner, Kaveh Moussavi, have exposed a chink in the PTI’s armour. Though it has always been evident to objective analysts and students of Pakistan’s history, the truth of the accountability process has again come to the surface.

The story of the UK-based asset recovery firm began in 2000 when the then head of NAB, Gen Mohammad Amjad, engaged Broadsheet to recover Pakistan’s stolen wealth hidden in foreign banks. According to the contract, the firm would receive 20 percent of the recovered assets. Why it didn’t work is a long story but Pakistan had now to pay the large sum of $29 million as a result of Broadsheet going into arbitration after Pakistan terminated the contract in 2003. It was this judgment that prompted media attention and made Kaveh Moussavi a familiar face in Pakistani households.

Initially, the spotlight was on Kaveh’s claim that he had been offered a $25 million bribe to drop the probe against the Sharif family and Imran responded with a series of tweets to say that, while the Panama Papers had exposed our ruling elite’s corruption and money laundering, the Broadsheet revelations have again exposed the massive scale of our ruling elite’s corruption.

However, Broadsheet’s owner has also accused an unidentified individual purportedly linked to the government of asking for kickbacks. He has also criticised Imran Khan’s ‘insincere’ accountability drive. In a published report, he is quoted to have asserted that if there is any claim to the credibility of Imran Khan in fighting corruption, he should publish the judgment of the London court for the people of Pakistan to read.

A list of 200 persons was given to Broadsheet in 2000 and it included the names of not just politicians but also military personnel, businessmen and bureaucrats. These names have not yet been made public, though there are some revelations on social media. But we know that some leading politicians from that list became ministers in Gen Pervez Musharraf’s government, after they defected from their parties. And this practice, making corruption a bargaining chip, has survived. That is how some members of the cabinet were recruited from parties they now dutifully run down.

Hence, unless there is a shift in how power is exercised, an accountability drive against politicians is bound to be selective and partial. It would amount to a witch-hunt. This view is certified by observations that have been made by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. The present NAB is judged to be blatantly biased and going after politicians of only one side of the political divide.

Can the judgment of the London court that has awarded damages to Broadsheet offer any clarifications in this regard? But the problem here is not that people are in the dark about who among the rulers have done what. They know – and they are waiting for circumstances and the emerging realities of their existence to somehow work in their favour.

So, will the outcome of the foreign funding case and other disputes in the political arena allow this wounded nation to take a few steps in the right direction?

The writer is a senior journalist.

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