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Accountability’s hall of mirrors

What is happening in Pakistan would be political entertainment, if only it were not so portentous a threat to peace and social harmony. Put your ear to the ground and you may hear the alarm going off.

Yet, it is difficult to find the specific source of this sense of foreboding. So much is happening at so many levels. Is Afghanistan becoming more of a hot potato? What message have the Pandora Papers delivered to our rulers who are increasingly becoming hard of hearing?

What kind of a verdict is the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Ordinance on the moral disposition of this government? Is a political conflagration ensured by pointedly aggressive utterances of Maryam Nawaz? Will the rumblings in Balochistan – made literal by that massive earthquake in early hours on Thursday – be felt in other places?

There is, of course, so much more, including the economy and further brutalisation of society. But one issue that has suddenly cropped up this week is so shrouded in ambiguity that one can refer to it only in passing – a number of important postings and transfers on Wednesday. The posting that drew the most attention was of the director general of ISI. Many unasked questions remain unanswered. By and large, what happens on social media, stays on social media.

I have confessed to being lost in this swirl of events. But there is a thread to be picked up. We could explore the aftermath of Imran Khan’s obsession with accountability, in the wake of the Pandora Papers and his (ball) tampering with NAB. Metaphorically, we may go back to when our hero rode triumphantly to power, holding aloft his banner of accountability. The trumpets of victory may still be ringing in the ears of some of his disciples.

But the scene has certainly changed. That shimmering banner is in tatters and the old warrior, unable to slay the dragon of corruption, looks rather forlorn and weary. It may be a kind of poetic justice that most of the people who are with him now were nurtured in the parties that our hero has reviled with a passion that is pathological in its intensity. The Pandora Papers have underlined this reality and provide an excuse to look closely at Imran Khan’s entire process of accountability and his promise to cleanse the Augean stables of Pakistan.

I have also suggested that our politics can provide some comic relief. Here again, the leading player is the leader of the PTI. A juxtaposition of an action taken by the prime minister with a statement made by Imran Khan some years ago is invariably an example of irony. References to how he had vowed to wipe out big corruption – at one time only in ninety days – would be most instructive in a montage of relevant videos.

A lot of political heat has been generated by the promulgation of the NAB Ordinance and what it prescribes. The opposition is up in arms against this potentially temporary legislation. Two premier representative bodies of lawyers – the Pakistan Bar Council and the Supreme Court Bar Association – are set to challenge it before the Supreme Court. The overall impression is that this ordinance has announced the demise of the PTI’s accountability narrative.

I think that more credible evidence of how Imran Khan has betrayed his own narrative is provided by how the government has responded to revelations made in Pandora Papers. It was officially stated that the federal ministers whose names had appeared in the Pandora Papers would not be removed from their positions unless they were declared guilty in an investigation conducted by the government itself. Please show the video of what Imran Khan had said after the release of the Panama Papers in April 2016.

Let us ignore how the Pandora Papers, released by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), have been covered by the Pakistan media. There is one article on Pakistan on the official website of ICIJ, written by two highly respected members of the Consortium, Margot Gibbs and Malia Politzer. Its title: “Prime Minister Imran Khan promised ‘new Pakistan’ but members of his inner circle moved millions offshore”.

There is a subheading: “Leak shows a key ally tried to bypass tax authorities and political and military elites bought luxury apartments and set up shell companies”. This article was published in some international newspapers. The Guardian did its own story on Moonis Elahi.

The truth of the matter is that a high percentage of our rulers has always been corrupt. This is what Imran Khan has repeatedly alluded to as “elite capture”. He made so many of his followers believe that he would go after this corruption with sincerity and determination. Instead, he made a compromise with ‘electables’ to come to power; this amounted to also embracing the ‘corruptibles’.

Just look at his cabinet, one minister after another. What an impressive gallery of political rogues it is, collected from previous regimes. Only a few are original PTI stalwarts. This may be the most inclusive cabinet in Pakistan’s history, with leftovers from all parties and regional groups. Then, there has been such a regular turnover of ministerial stock.

When Transparency International released its Corruption Perceptions Index for 2020 in January this year, Pakistan was found to have lost four spots. It ranked 124 out of 180 countries. Pakistan had ranked 120 in the 2019 index. Another indication that corruption is not coming down. Unfortunately, the captain is not able to lead from the front. He is refusing to disclose the gifts he has received from foreign heads of state.

In any case, things are falling apart – and the pace is picking up. For some, the earthquake in Balochistan is ominous. There were new tremors on Friday evening. Actually, the coverage of this disaster will further expose the deprivations of the people of Pakistan who survive far from the gilded lives of a corrupt elite.

Email: ghazi_salahuddin@hotmail.com

Ghazi Salahuddin, "Accountability’s hall of mirrors," The News. 2021-10-10.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political entertainment , Political elites , Accountability , Corruption , Transparency , Moonis Elahi , PM Imran Khan , Pakistan , PTI , ISI , NAB