Pakistan’s Age of Accountability: Will it sustain itself?

Writer argues that PTI’s ascent in politics coinciding with the arrival of satellite media channels, social media platforms and massive expansion of telecom industry - providing almost 160 million hand held delivery systems- has led to the rise of middle-class values in Pakistan and thus ushered in an Age of Accountability but will it continue?

Pakistan Accountability

“How dare the National Accountability Bureau question ‘me’? They should fear the day when they (NAB) also have to beg like Saif-ur-Rehman once did, holding my feet” – said ex-President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari scornfully, with a smirk on his face, in his famous interview to Geo News, three years ago.

Mr Zardari was not wrong! Marching from 1947 to 2018, every time the term “across the board accountability” was used, it meant nothing but a tool for smooth public consumption and cruising political rhetoric. But in the July of 2018, as the political dynamics of Pakistan changed, breaking the “evergreen” duopoly of Sharif & Zardari, Pakistan’s power corridors observed a paradigm shift in terms of “practical implementation” of accountability in Pakistan. What was just a slogan, now made its way to the “to-do-list” of the Government, for a change!

The cricketer-turned-politician, Imran Khan, whose ambitious political career spanning over two decades, only revolved around the idea of turning the “theoretical” concept of accountability into a practical exercise of ensuring one rule for all, irrespective of their socio-economic status, empowered the watchdog like never before.

Read more: PM Imran Khan’s Super Over! 

Khan had identified as early as in 1996 that people on the streets of Pakistan demand justice – it was with this assessment in mind that he had named his infantile party as “Tehrik-e-Insaf” meaning ‘campaign for Justice”. This was a long journey that coincided with the rise of middle-class values in Pakistan. What created this new political wave across Punjab, KP Karachi, and other urban towns of Pakistan is still not clear, and historians will have to judge carefully.

However, the arrival of private satellite tv channels breaking the state’s monopoly on news and current affairs under Musharraf regime, the massive expansion of telecoms that enabled the unstoppable flow of images and content through more than 100 million handheld devices by 2013 in a nation where 65% are under 35 years may have contributed to the rise of new politics in many ways that need to be studied.

This narrative gained popularity with every passing day, steering the public perception in the Opposition’s favor, as the incumbent Government’s weak media strategy did not rebut it timely enough

Imran Khan’s journey to power took him 22 years till August 2018 when he finally got the opportunity to implement his political vision into reality – and despite the frightening economic challenges faced by Pakistan, “Accountability of Politically corrupt” still topped the agenda.

NAB’s incompetence turns the tide against “Accountability”?

However, as the months passed by, it became evident even to this indefatigable man, that it was easier said than done and that purity of intent and will of the Premier just wasn’t enough. More than the lack of political interference, what NAB badly needed was the structural support and enrichment of the human resource pool to diffuse the humongous work pressure on the existing staff.

 

As the incessant PTI Government began to take baby steps, the inherent blunder of “owning” the apparent achievements of NAB, in an attempt to “flaunt” the arrests of the Opposition, threw the ball in the Opposition’s Court, lending them the opportunity to pin their cases on the nexus between the Government and the watchdog.

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This narrative gained popularity with every passing day, steering the public perception in the Opposition’s favor, as the incumbent Government’s weak media strategy did not rebut it timely enough. Neither could they foresee the probable repercussions of owning the watchdog arresting the accused and flaunting it as their achievement, which essentially placed NAB’s prosecution shortcomings in the Government’s hat.

Therefore, NAB’s inability to effectively prosecute began to be viewed as the accused being falsely alleged and dragged into the Accountability Court – the tide started to turn.

But the interesting part remains – and inspires hope – that PTI Government is the “only” Government in the history of Pakistan that started to ensure “across the board accountability” while untangling the knots of decades-old incompetence and nepotism in the corruption-ravaged institutions and has managed to survive despite hurting its political supporters.

Ironically enough, when PPP & PML-N accuse Imran Khan of political victimization, they cease to remember that the Chairman, NAB was appointed by the mutual consent of both parties and almost all of those cases that both of the parties face today

So whether it was Prime Minister, Imran Khan kicking out thirty MPA’s from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly over horse-trading, in PTI’s previous regime in KP (2013-18) or the Health Minister, Amir Kayani getting fired over unbridled medicine price hikes and mismanagement or KP Government’s former Official Spokesperson, Ajmal Wazir removed over charges of planning to fix commission from advertisement budget or the Premier parting ways with one of his closest aides, Jehangir Khan Tareen, over the “mere” allegation of being involved in orchestrating artificial sugar crisis.

Moreover, Punjab Government’s powerful Minister Aleem Khan having been removed from the Ministry, over a NAB case from when he was a former minister in PML-Q’s regime, or the sitting Chief Minister, Punjab, Usman Buzdar appearing before NAB, without any protocol, in an illegal license issuance case which, apparently, has got very little to do with him, but yet we never hear any of them claim that they are being “wrongly” targeted or politically victimized by the watchdog. Despite being hurt by the process of “Accountability” PTI as a party stood together – this is certainly a first in Pakistan’s political history.

Read more: PM Imran Khan fighting Coronavirus & Corruption virus like a boss! 

Ironically enough, when PPP & PML-N accuse Imran Khan of political victimization, they cease to remember that the Chairman, NAB was appointed by the mutual consent of both parties and almost all of those cases that both of the parties face today, were once lodged by none other than themselves against each other. Imran Khan’s only role, here, is to empower the watchdog, ruling out the political interference or pressure to victimize, unlike the not so good old days.

If we journey back to the days when PPP & PMLN were taking turns running the power show of Pakistani politics, we will find ample examples of the cases that were lodged against both of them, by both of them, for both of them to politically milk in their next regimes, as a proof of how they scratched each other’s backs, as and when necessary!

That’s how Imran Khan convinced the young generation, the educated middle-class, and the underprivileged to envision Pakistan and now they will not let anyone, be it Imran Khan or the Opposition, get away with ruining it

But we can’t remember the Parliamentarians ever being asked to resign or leave their office unless proven innocent after the investigative process, back in the day, as we see it today.

Be it the murder charges on PML-N’s Rana Sanaullah, or the secretly held Iqama’s of the then PML-N Ministers: Ahsan Iqbal and Khawaja Asif, or Hanif Abbasi’s infamous ephedrine case, or ex-PM, Yousuf Raza Gillani’s wife stealthily bagging Turkish First Lady’s gift to the State of Pakistan or Sindh Assembly Speaker, Agha Siraj Durrani having been found guilty of secretly hoarding heaps of gold and foreign currency or ex-PM Yousuf Raza Gillani being guilty of “Contempt of Court” leading to his disqualification by the Supreme Court of Pakistan – we NEVER saw their respective political parties or ruling Governments were taking even the slightest possible action – or those media persons now incessantly crying “dual standards” ever much disturbed on the bizarre happenings.

Read more: Was PTI’s accountability drive politically motivated? Apparently, yes

The recent example of the honorable Islamabad High Court ordering the convicted ex disqualified Prime Minister of Pakistan to essentially appear before the Court, and the convict deciding to stay in London until he is satisfied with his medical treatment there, and his younger brother and his guarantor to the Court, Shahbaz Sharif, advising him publicly to stay in London instead of appearing before the Court, can’t be seen anywhere else in the world.

Will Pakistan’s Age of Transparency & Accountability end in disgrace?

Looking at the reverses – the incompetence of NAB, failures in courts, flight abroad of the convicted politicians, partisan politics by many in the media and those erroneously described as “civil society” – one feels that perhaps, the journey of accountability and transparency is way tougher and tiresome for a developing low-income country like Pakistan than it seemed in the beginning. And one fears that it may falter and fail.

But as I mentioned at the outset, it was not just being driven by PTI and Imran Khan. On the contrary, one can make a case that PTI and Imran Khan, to a great extent, were being driven by the rise of “middle-class values” in Pakistan’s urban centers. This “middle-class moment” has not ended. If in the decade after 9/11 it was being driven by the arrival of private satellite channels that broke the state’s monopoly on news and political comment then now it is being driven by the rise of alternate media like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and so on.

Read more: Imran Khan & his ‘Team of Rivals’

While Pakistan’s “Ancien regime” – that represents an inter-dependent relationship between NAB, old media, courts, political elite, legal fraternity, and other state institutions – is trying to defeat the “middle-class moment” they may not succeed in a country of 220 million with 65% under 35 suffering from unemployment and shrinking economic resources.

With purity of intent and structural adjustments with a comprehensive strategy in place, we can still get there, as a society, where the rich and powerful will have as much of impunity as ordinary citizens do. That’s how Imran Khan convinced the young generation, the educated middle-class, and the underprivileged to envision Pakistan and now they will not let anyone, be it Imran Khan or the Opposition, get away with ruining it. “Transparency’ and “Accountability” are the need of the hour and quite inevitable for Pakistan’s survival.

Maleeha Hashmey is a prominent Vlogger, Columnist and Corporate Trainer, has previously worked with United Nations. She can be reached through her Twitter handle:@maleehahashmey or by her email: MaleehaHashmi3@gmail.com.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

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