Accountability: Now or Never!

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President Musharaf’s recent continual open criticism of the former corrupt regimes of Nawaz Sharif and Banzir Bhutto has gone down well with the Pakistani people. The fact that he and his government are exposing the politicians who ruled the nation for the last few decades is vital in order to enable the people to reject corrupt politicians in the coming elections. True democracy cannot even be envisaged without cleansing the Pakistani political arena. With this in mind the ! Musharaf government announced its plans for across the board accountability which was whole heartedly welcomed by the Pakistani people and the parties which are labeled as pro-government. With only a few months of the Musharaf government remaining, the government to be formed after the elections will depend on the success and effectiveness of the present accountability process especially that of the politicians and the leadership of those political parties to contest the elections.

There is a common perception that the government is not succeeding in its accountability process to the extent which is required. Well there have been great successes by the National accountability Bureau (NAB) which could not even have been imagined during the past decades. Those people who considered themselves to be above the law were brought to accountability courts in shackles. The NAB also had great success abroad by extraditing shamed former admiral Mansoor from the USA and also pur! chasing thousands of documents from the British government regarding corruption carried out by Banzir and Nawaz. The credibility of the Musharaf government has won the support of western governments in uprooting corruption in Pakistan. Cabinet ministers in Britain have heavily criticised the governments of Nawaz and Banzir on national television, terming them as totally corrupt and the worst enemies of the Pakistani People. Within the country NAB has convicted former federal ministers and prime ministers, disqualifying them from public office, but there is concern that top members of the previous governments are being given sanctuary as long as they support the present regime.

It is clear that the Musharaf government is far more serious in carrying out the accountability process than the previous corrupt regimes of Nawaz and Banazir, but the coming into being of the PML(QA) has created an apparent shelter for corrupt members of previous governments from both the PML(! N) and the PPP. There is no contention in that the PML(QA) has received full fledged support from the government receiving coverage and promotion on TV, the likes of which is not given to any other political party. Such steps by the government only work against it and play into the hands of the opposition. Other than the PML(QA) leadership, the leadership of the Millat party also faces several serious allegations. Farooq Laghari faces the accusations of the famous Mehran Bank scandal but what is more disturbing is the news of the rigging of the 97 elections which he was involved in as he was the President at the time. The interim Prime Minister at the time Mr. Meraaj khalid was also involved in this state sponsored deception of the Pakistani people. Yet the Musharaf government seems to be fully treating Laghari as a clean and honest politician. It should speedily investigate these allegations of initiating, supervising and legitimising rigging.

There are many other f! amous names escaping any NAB deliberations. The government and the NAB insist that they are powerless to act against these people as there is no evidence against them. The simple argument to that would be that such people do not leave any evidence behind, thus a formula suggested by Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri, chairman Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) regarding accountability seems to be the best solution. The formula given by Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri is asking such people to provide details of their assets before they entered public office and details of their current assets after being in public office. If the increase in assets is according to that possible through their private businesses then there is no sign of misappropriation, otherwise there is evidence of corruption. Any evidence of misappropriation of the slightest degree is enough to disqualify anyone from running for public office. It seems as though the government must take such suggestions seriously if it wants to avoid total fai! lure as the return of corrupt politicians, will be seen as ‘Musharaf’s failure’.

Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri is reportedly to have claimed that when in power he will complete the accountability process in one month, so the government should take up this offer at its time of dire need. As Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri and Imran khan chairman PTI are the only two leaders who have relentlessly called for across the board accountability starting with politicians. Other political parties have merely used accountability as a political slogan to give the impression that they have nothing to fear from the accountability process.

Musharaf was seen as a saviour at a time when it was thought that the country will plunge into a never ending bliss under the previous regime. Thus all those who were glad to see the back of the so-called democratic governments with the hope of making a new start for Pakistan are now feeling that they may have been tricked into supporting Musharaf. The frustration! of the Pakistani people is at such a level that if another corrupt regime was placed over them nothing will be able to stop them from coming to the streets in their millions.

A formula suggested by Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri, chairman Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) regarding accountability seems to be the best solution. The formula given by Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri is asking such people to provide details of their assets before they entered public office and details of their current assets after being in public office. If the increase in assets is according to that possible through their private businesses then there is no sign of misappropriation, otherwise there is evidence of corruption.

Thus the importance of the accountability process cannot be under estimated as its failure to stop the return of corrupt politicians will nullify all the progress and reforms made by the Musharaf government. Currently the primary objective for Musharaf and NAB should be to investig! ate those politicians who will be contesting the elections starting with all those who have been in office over the past decade. It seems as though that there are elements in Musharaf’s government who are an obstacle to the accountability process. Musharaf will gain everything by completing the accountability of politicians before the elections but on the other hand will lose everything if he fails to do so properly. For president Musharaf the choice is as simple as can be, he must realise that not only does the success of his government depend on the proper completion of the accountability of politicians before the elections, but also this is the last chance that Pakistan has to uproot the corrupt system of the past. As Musharaf’s government has powers which will not be available to following democratic governments, in that the might of the army is fully behind the present government which helps in speedily dealing with difficult issues.

Musharaf recently said i! n an interview to the “BBC World’s Hard Talk Pakistan” program, that the NAB has its own courts and the military is not interfering. Well this may be a positive point in giving the message that the NAB is independent but it seems that the NAB will not be able to carry out the required accountability of politicians on time. It must be noted that Chris Pattern the EC representative during his recent visit to Pakistan emphasised upon ‘democratic accountability’ in Pakistan. He made it clear that the EC’s support of Pakistan’s ‘poverty reduction strategy’ and overall cooperation is dependant on the completion of the reforms set out by Musharaf’s government. Thus it is clear that Pakistan’s prosperity which is not possible without mutual cooperation between Pakistan and the western nations, depends wholly on Musharaf stopping the return of corrupt politicians. To fully achieve this, election reforms will also play a big part.

Thus Musharaf should seriously reconsider his policy on accountability to make it a success and not the joke it is presently being considered as.

Mr. Jawed Iqbal, is an independent writer and a political analyst. His articles appear in printed and electronic media of Pakistan.

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