Tuesday May 17, 2022

Accountability in trouble

By Editorial Board
January 26, 2022

Whether Mirza Shahzad Akbar – the prime minister’s adviser on accountability and interior – resigned willingly or PM Imran Khan asked him to do so is insignificant. Whether the PM in his address on Sunday warned the opposition or the public or some other entities is also not as noteworthy as the feeling of a rocking boat. Insiders have hinted that the PM was not satisfied with Akbar’s performance and asked him to resign for not showing adequate results. Meanwhile, rumours are rife that there would be more changes in the cabinet. Akbar was a key member of the federal cabinet, and his exit is a visible sign of problems that the corruption narrative is facing. He was supposed to play a central role in achieving one of the PTI’s most reassuring promises: exposing the corruption that the PML-N and PPP had allegedly done – worth billions of dollars. The PTI manifesto made it clear that eliminating corruption and targeting ‘corrupt politicians’ would be one of its primary objectives. How far the PTI government has been able to hold corrupt elements – imaginary or real – accountable is anybody’s guess. It is also not clear how far the so-called anti-corruption campaign has been able to secure the return of the country’s stolen wealth, if any. With one of its loudest speakers gone, how the government will continue its campaign is yet to be seen.

At least one point is evident: the PTI’s corruption narrative is losing steam pretty fast, if it has not already done so. Shahzad Akbar was a man that PM Imran Khan had hand-picked to lead the charge against most of the political opponents who could pose a challenge to the ruling party. It seems that the list of the PM’s trustworthy advisers is depleting, and the accountability drive is not much of a drive. The process of accountability under the leadership of PM Imran Khan has produced little and nothing much has been proved legally. The corruption and money laundering cases being pursued have not progressed much and the former accountability czar produced more pulp than performance. The government and its various entities have mainly targeted the Sharif and Zardari-Bhutto families and while doing so have pushed the opposition to the wall. No logical conclusion appears to be in sight for this relentless drive by the government, which has been consistently called a witch-hunt by the opposition. The government has promised time and again that it would bring back the supposed laundered and looted wealth but now in its fourth year of power, there is nothing much on the ground, apart from an endless number of cases. If there were billions stashed away by former rulers why is it taking that long to show some concrete results to the citizens of this country?

Shahzad Akbar in one of his tirades against the former rulers had claimed that over seven hundred billion rupees had been laundered to offshore banks. The Asset Recovery Unit formed in 2018 and led by Akbar has also not shown any legal means to bring back the money. He spent a lot of time probing properties owned by Pakistanis in foreign countries, but again to not much avail. And then we have the PM’s bizarre warning on Sunday that he would be more dangerous on the streets than he is in government. All in all, a rather bleak scenario seems to be emerging. The PM’s attack on the media is also odd – given that the media can only project what is happening in society. In keeping with his past tendency to blame everyone but his government, Prime Minister Imran Khan accused the media of creating despondency in the country. However, the fact is that it is the common people who are buckling under the burden of surging inflation and diminishing livelihood opportunities. Clearly, something is not right in the power corridors of the ruling party and its government. Lambasting the opposition will not help; and hurling threats won’t do the trick either – something anyone in Pakistan’s politics is well aware of.