The two former Prime Ministers of the ‘Sharif Business Empire’ are both claiming to have received a ‘Clean Chit’, marking the culmination of their 16 months of rule from April 2022 to August 2023. While the PTI government is being accused of orchestrating a witch hunt against them, the truth is that most cases were filed on a reciprocal basis. Both the PML-N and PPP attempted to uncover corruption within each other’s ranks.
The initial showdown occurred in November 1989 when PML-N moved a vote of no-confidence against Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s government. Backed by the establishment, Bhutto was under pressure, and Asif Zardari (AZ) took action to secure her position. Meanwhile, Nawaz Sharif (NS), as Chief Minister of Punjab, rallied his loyal MNAs in the Changa Manga forest. AZ transported his supporters to Swat Valley. When the votes were tallied, Bhutto survived by a margin of twelve votes, with AZ’s financial influence surpassing NS’s attempts at coercion.
This event showcased a clash between the corrupt elements of both parties
AZ, initially labeled “Mr. 10%”, later embraced the moniker “100%” to counter the opposing side effectively. Amid Pervez Musharraf’s efforts to combat corruption within both parties, the ‘Accountability Czar’ of the ‘Sharifs’ offered an unconditional tearful apology to AZ. During their exile, Bhutto and NS met in London to sign the Charter of Democracy (COD), an agreement that aimed to establish a ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ to seek apologies for past wrongdoings.
Following Bhutto’s assassination in December 2007, AZ assumed control of the party, furthering a race for wealth accumulation that continued unabated. The power alternated between PPP (2008 to 2013) and PML-N (2013 to 2018).
The origins of this ‘Clean Chit’ concept trace back to President Farooq Leghari, who dismissed his own party’s government using the Zia Amendment of 58 (2b). He instituted the ‘Ehtesab Bureau’ (EB) led by Justice (R) Mujahid Mirza to file corruption cases with great fanfare. However, the interim Law Minister, Justice (R) Fakharuddin G. Ibrahim, sought to target loan and utility bill defaulters, leading to political turmoil as many politicians failed to meet constitutional requirements. Despite Leghari’s reservations, a soft spot for PML-N developed, allowing loan rescheduling and bill installment options, which enabled the ‘looters’ to participate in elections. PML-N then won an absolute majority.
For more robust accountability, Musharraf established the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to replace EB, granting it extensive powers to arrest the accused. While investigations and prosecutions were often weak, numerous unnecessary arrests created an atmosphere of fear. Political maneuvering led to the issuance of ‘Clean Shits’ to those who defected from their parties. This led to the formation of splinter groups like PML-Q and PPP (Patriots).
With the Sharif family leaving the country under an agreement with Musharraf, both AZ and NS took turns in office while facing lingering corruption cases. Despite the lack of changes to NAB laws, ‘Awe and Fury’ tactics persisted against opponents.
Upon inheriting these corruption cases, the PTI government was caught in a web of ‘Corrupt against the Corrupt’. However, due to the seriousness of the charges, obtaining a ‘Clean Shit’ seemed unlikely without altering NAB laws and neutralizing the prosecution. Investigators were sidelined, and important witnesses fell victim to illness or demise, tarnishing the judiciary’s credibility. Though the outcome of legal charges is typically binary—’Guilty’ or ‘Not Guilty’—the manipulation of law’s teeth rendered judges powerless, resulting in a ‘Clean Chit’ tainted by persistent stains.
The alleged misuse of kickbacks from the construction of the M-2 Motorway to purchase Avenfield Apartments in London exemplifies the tainted nature of this ‘Clean Chit’. NS’s promise to provide a money trail was unfulfilled, contributing to doubts about the legitimacy of his actions. The Independent Power Producers (IPPs) continue to burden the nation with unaffordable power generation. AZ’s involvement in signing one-sided contracts with IPPs in 1994, leading to exorbitant costs for power, remains a critical issue. The so-called ‘Clean Chit’, surrounded by the dirt and stench of corruption, fails to mask the hardships faced by citizens grappling with soaring electricity bills.