Accountability: the need of the hour

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Ahsan Alvi

A few days ago, during a discussion with my relatively apolitical friends, I realised the insensitivity and the obliviousness that is prevalent in the “haves” of our society with respect to the “have-nots.” It suddenly made me wonder, and think about Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s vision for the “land of the pure.” Pakistan came into existence after ridding itself of the suppression and repression of the British and Hindus in India.
Little did Quaid-e-Azam know that even after 69 years, this suppression/oppression of the masses not only continued but would also worsen. Today, the public at large is held hostage, and is suffering at the hands of oligarchs and monarchs disguised as democrats. Whether it is their ostentatious and extravagant lifestyle, or tyrannical and fascist policies they adopt to victimise the opposition, their modus operandi is no different from the worst amongst dictators.
One word that these “Mughal-e-Azams” of our time are petrified of is ehtesaab (accountability). In a genuine and functioning democracy, the head of state is not only answerable to the elected representatives of the public but also to the public. Whereas in Pakistan, the head of state, Mian Nawaz Sharif, is surrounded by a bunch of sycophants and fawners aka darbaris (courtiers) who have literally surrendered their conscience to the Sharif family. From Maryam Nawaz Sharif acting as the de facto prime minister in Mian saheb’s absence to Hamza Shahbaz calling the shots in Punjab, the eight years of uninterrupted “democratic” rule has only bolstered the tendencies of dynastic politics in our system of governance.
A few months ago, after the startling revelations of the Panama Papers, there was a global ruckus. Iceland’s prime minister had to step down because of his wife’s undeclared wealth; an Italian minister resigned; and David Cameron had to present all his tax and asset details in the House of Lords as he was under fire over the shares he had bought, many years ago, in his father’s offshore company.
In Pakistan, the prime minister was in headlines as his sons’ and daughter’s offshore companies were unearthed through which they had bought the very expensive Mayfair, London flats, which remained undeclared assets. Maryam, Nawaz Sharif’s daughter, who was declared as his dependent in his election nomination papers, happened to be the owner of an offshore company, of which apparently her father had no clue of as it was not part of his declared assets.
When the opposition dared to question Sharif, they were attacked with a barrage of allegations, and instead of answering the legitimate questions raised by the opposition and media, it was the charitable institutions founded by Imran Khan and his tax records since 1970 that came under attack. And Panama Papers was termed a “saazish” (conspiracy) against democracy and the ruling family.
A few pertinent questions that Sharif and his cronies need to answer are:
– If Imran Khan has been embezzling funds from Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital or Namal College, or if he has not been paying taxes since the 1970s, why has he not been arrested/punished despite almost 20 years of Sharif family’s combined federal and provincial rule?
– It was the International Consortium of Journalists (ICIJ) that came out with the revelations regarding Nawaz Sharif’s family’s illegitimate offshore companies. How can it then be a conspiracy designed by Imran Khan against democracy?
– If Maryam was declared as Nawaz Sharif’s dependent, and is also the owner of those offshore companies — as “confessed” by her brother — does it not mean that those companies effectively belong to Nawaz Sharif as Maryam had no other source of income?
– If media is showing contradictory statements and lies of the Sharif family, how does that make media an anti-democratic force?
– Lastly, if Nawaz Sharif has done nothing wrong, instead of casting aspersions on and blackmailing Imran Khan and others, why does he not submit himself for accountability like Imran Khan has?
The fact that Nawaz Sharif is obfuscating, and is shying away from accountability, and his ministers are trying to blackmail and bribe the opposition, the only option the opposition is left with is to hit the streets, and gather the public against the crooks sitting at the top. The country is sinking into a debt trap; state institutions are in a debilitating condition reeling from huge losses; all major economic indicators — exports, agricultural income, foreign investment — show a decline; children are being abducted in the capital of the province where the Sharifs are ruling for the 6th time; and their own fortress like palaces and businesses — home and abroad — made through ill-gotten wealth are expanding. In such a situation, is Imran Khan wrong to protest, demand accountability and protest against these pseudo-democrats who consider themselves above the law?
Instead of raising their voices against this kleptocratic setup and supporting Khan in his fight against this blatant and brazen abuse of power, there are some so-called “champions of democracy” who in the garb of “let the system function” are actually defending and justifying the corrupt policies of the incumbent rulers.