Wednesday December 08, 2021

On accountability

January 20, 2021

It is part of our faith that, while everyone will be rewarded for his/her good deeds, we will also be held accountable for our selective punitive actions against our political opponents, and inactions against those criminals who oblige us with their political and financial support to hide their crimes.

Witch-hunts in the garb of accountability, and intentionally turning a blind eye towards serious misappropriations by a few favourites are all corrupt practices and will not go unpunished on the day of judgement.

After the creation of Pakistan, corruption initially found its roots in the false claims for land allotments to displaced persons. Thereafter, it gradually permeated all segments of our society. Land revenue departments, police service, lower civil and sessions courts, customs and most government departments are beset with corrupt practices which have unfortunately now become the order of the day.

When normal courts failed to effectively tackle corruption cases, the anti-corruption department, and anti-terrorist, anti-narcotic, labour and banking courts were introduced. FIA was also tasked to nab corrupt people involved in financial, political, intellectual or moral corruption and hold them accountable. However, because of weak governance most of these departments end up promoting corruption instead of curtailing it. Besides, due to weak criminal intelligence, faulty prosecution and our flawed current legal/judicial system, courts have also failed to hold culprits accountable.

Most of these anti-corruption organs have now become tools in the hands of rulers so they can arm-twist their political opponents to protect and prolong their misrule. To curb this tendency, in late 1996, the interim government of caretaker prime minister Meraj Khalid introduced the Ehtesab Cell. In 1997 the PML-N government created the Ehtesab Bureau under the Ehtesab Act 97. As president, Musharraf later considered this arrangement also inadequate and he raised the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in 1999.

NAB soon became controversial when Gen Musharraf himself started misusing this institution to consolidate his political hold to prolong his rule. Politicians with corruption charges were forced to join the PML-Q if they wanted their corruption cases to be dismissed. Some of them who obliged were even taken in the federal cabinet. Ever since, the institution has been mainly used for political arm-twisting with impunity.

Readers will be surprised to know that the purpose behind the creation of NAB, as stipulated in the ordinance, was three-fold. First, corruption prevention (not necessarily through punishments). Second, to raise public awareness; and third, to enforce anti-corruption measures. Did we ever see all this happening? In fact, NAB with its present structure and human resource is neither trained nor organised to perform these duties. Someone with no exposure to administrative or governance issues cannot be expected to head such a complex department.

Pre-emptive measures for prevention of corruption like raising public awareness and enforcement of anti-corruption measures have never been NAB’s priority. They seem to wish to rather go after the public, civil servants, the business community and politicians – while also opting for plea bargains, a portion out of which goes to NAB.

We saw an honourable vice chancellor of a university hand-cuffed and locked in a small NAB cell. A highly dignified retired army officer and a known politico-defence analyst, Brigadier Asad Munir was forced to commit suicide due to NAB harassment and many private business owners were forced to flee. One of the largest taxpayers of the country is said to have been harassed as well, while even the media was not spared. We saw how the Jang/Geo editor-in-chief was arrested at the inquiry stage, and then released after a long detention.

The leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, Mian Shahbaz Sharif, and many other political opponents of the ruling party too are behind bars. Ironically, those who deserted their parties and joined the ruling party are free despite corruption cases against them pertaining to flour and sugar scandals as well as foreign funding cases etc.

Will such kind of accountability ever make Pakistan corruption-free? No honourable, God fearing and devoted Pakistani will stand in defence of a corrupt person because our religion too does not allow that.

We need to keep in mind that politically motivated and selective application of the law, and misuse of political authority, also falls under the category of intellectual and moral corruption. Those responsible will be accountable if not today then maybe tomorrow in the court of Allah Almighty.

The writer is chairman Senate Standing Committee on Defence Production.