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Friday, May 24, 2024

Takes a Thief to catch a Thief: Is it true for Pakistan?

Pakistan has been plundered by many since its inception and continues to be bullied into submitting before powerful's might. Will the new PM's accountability drive work in Pakistan's setting where thieves have the upper hand?

Opinion |

It takes a thief to catch a thief, diamond cuts diamond, poison neutralizes poison etc, and these proverbs are widely used in the English language. The bottom line being that it has never been easy to catch a thief. Committing a theft has never been a trivial affair. Despite powerful slogans like ‘rime never pays’ and honesty is the best policy, dishonesty prevails in the land of the pure.

Common law which is applied in most democratic countries is weak in controlling white collar crime. The onus of proof is on the accuser not the accused, the underlying principle being, ‘You are innocent unless proven guilty’. Conviction requires a due process with proofs and witnesses which smart thieves use to their advantage.

Law enforcement agencies have deteriorated over a period of time. It is indeed interesting that Police went on strike in Punjab and KPK (NWFP) when the democratic government came into power in 1971. After 1977 the government in power started to rely again on the men in uniform.

Terror of NAB arrests and assets beyond means investigations has some effectiveness but then the courts intervene and provide relief available under the common law

The 1985 party-less elections proved to be a major watershed. In Punjab, criminals were recruited in the Police department. In other words, while their illegal activities continued they were provided legal cover. Lawbreakers and enforcers now had common traits. There was no one left to mind the store or to protect the weak and the deprived.

There were thieves in the police stations, streets and the corridors of power all working in unison to rob the nation. The intelligence agencies knew all about it but decided to look the other way while the thieves took control of the country and its civilian institutions. The institutional damage today has become almost insurmountable.

In 1999 when the fourth usurper took control of the country he decided to catch the thieves with great fanfare. The Accountability Bureau was beefed up under the NAB Ordinance (National Accountability Bureau). There was some sigh of relief but it was short-lived, quite a few were inducted into the government while others were allowed to leave the country under long term agreements.

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The lawyers’ movement in 2007 weakened the dictator’s grip on power. In order to prolong his rule, he came up with another entry route for the rogues. The infamous NRO (National Reconciliation Ordinance) allowed them to return to carry on their loot and plunder for another term in office. Pakistan and its resources have been robbed with impunity by the unscrupulous political leadership that was imposed on the nation by the third and fourth usurpers.

After the 2018 elections, a fresh start has been made. There is an effort to clear the mess. All NAB cases have been reactivated. Convictions are low mainly due to poor prosecution and investigation. The entire apparatus of the state is either sluggish or disinterested. It seems the thieves within the system have sympathies for the ones outside that they are required to catch.

Then within the cabinet, there are high ups against whom NAB investigations are ongoing. The Prime Minister (PM) clearly wants cleansing leading up to a corruption-free Pakistan. It is a tall task which calls for persistent efforts while keeping the country afloat and ensuring relief to the masses.

In 1999 when the fourth usurper took control of the country he decided to catch the thieves with great fanfare. The Accountability Bureau was beefed up under the NAB Ordinance

So far the thieves are on the run while others are ready to follow them. Some leakages have been plugged but recovery is slow. While the NAB laws are being called ‘Draconian’, the common law is too soft for the hardened looters and criminals. The public at large understands the past plunder of the nation but effective way forward is not clear.

Courts operating under the common law cannot net the thieves who have plundered the resources of this nation. While the arrests of NAB are intimidating but not effective in convictions and punishments. The public expects the recovery of looted money followed by relief to the masses that is not happening at the required speed.

Pervez Musharraf despite complete control of the country realized the inadequacy of the state apparatus thus he entered into agreements with the thieves instead of weeding them out of the system. Unfortunately, the entire government set up is infested with very powerful weeds that refuse to die or be weeded out. Under such negative influences, no plants can flourish, they are bound to perish.

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For large scale cleansing, nations have adopted several mechanisms. Revolutions followed by revolutionary justice have been most effective. The Cultural Revolution in China under the great leader Mao Tse Tung and the Iranian uprising under Imam Khomeini proved to be deadly for the corrupt but resulted in cleansing of the choked system.

In South Africa, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was formed to move forward. Violators of Public trust were required to admit their sins and apologies to the nation to heal their wounds. In the Charter of Democracy signed by Benazir and Nawaz such commission was agreed to but it did not happen.

The bleeding wounds of the nation call for massive healing efforts. The thieves have to be caught and the loot recovered. In the absence of a revolution and the weak legal system, the conviction of the corrupt seems an uphill task. Terror of NAB arrests and assets beyond means investigations have some effectiveness but then the courts intervene and provide relief available under the common law.

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A separate tribunal like (Assets Reconciliation Commission) may be required to investigate the loot and plunder of the nation after the 1985 partyless elections which opened the floodgates of corruption. This dark era (1977 to 2018) must come to an end for the nation to move forward.

To catch a thief has never been easy under the common law practice a fresh approach has to be tried to recover the loot of the nation. In order to cleanse the system, an Assets Reconciliation Commission is the need of the hour.

Dr. Farid A. Malik is Ex-Chairman, Pakistan Science Foundation. The article was first published in The Nation and has been republished here with the author’s permission. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.