Righting Wrongs

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Every government that comes to power, elected or otherwise, unfolds a platform to right wrongs, mostly of its predecessors. Military regimes are into righting wrongs far more than their civilian counterparts, declaring accountability as their major plank. For the civilian governments, in supercession to lip-service about food, water and shelter, etc for the citizens, restoration of democracy and democratic mores is the priority. The hapless public, alternately buffeted by subjective governance by both, are usually left to pray that their rulers practice what they preach. Musharraf’s reign has been by far the best of the military regimes to rule Pakistan. In the matter of accountability they have excelled themselves, but ironically because they did not exercise absolute self-accountability, they will be subjected to far more critical appraisal than their predecessor military regimes. While the President himself is way above reproach, the public perception will hold him accountable for a handful whose misdeeds he is not directly responsible for but by not severing ties with them he assumes liability on the “love me, love my dog” syndrome. The irony also is that some of the accountability may have little to do with corruption but feeding of motivated or misleading information certainly affected critical issues involving governance calling into question the President’s decision-making, which is Pervez Musharraf’s strongest suit. When the measure of this regime is taken, the tragedy will be that a far better than average governance will be tainted by the misdemeanors of a handful. History is as unforgiving to talented cousins as it is to errant aides with their hands in the government till, but does history remember these rascals or the person on whose broad shoulders the rascals went about their corrupt business?

The President has very little time left as an absolute decision-maker, he needs to make every day of the next 75 upto Oct 10 count. Pervez Musharraf is a keen student of history and a decisive man of action, he must conduct a quick appraisal of the situation that exists in the land, taking urgent and concrete steps to right wrongs that he must prioritize to set right. And above all, he must closely maintain the “aim” annunciated by him when the Army took over.

The Pakistan Armed Forces will always remain the final guarantor of the nation’s sovereignty, they cannot serve as the permanent rulers of the land. Their role will always be that of a stop-gap measure at a point of “clear and present danger”, they have to solve problems, not become part of the problem. To be able to complete their mission, they cannot have anything to do with politics, let alone interfere with it. Because of repeated breakdown of the democratic order theirs is a monitoring rather than a manipulative role. As a national army they are representative of all the peoples of the land, they cannot afford a partisan relationship with any party, parties or coalition thereof. As neutral umpires their authority becomes all-powerful, able to impress upon the elected representatives to keep to the path of good governance. Any wrong notion that the Army can influence politics to its desire will be only a short term solution having far-reaching adverse consequences. The President must immediately move to suspend all activities, directly or indirectly, by men in uniform and those in his administration indulging in “horse trading”. If they do not desist, it will be like initiating “double jeopardy”, not only are some of the politicos being supported outright crooks, in the national sense the Army is giving its own pristine credibility a proverbial “kiss of death”.

Before the next government carries out their accountability, the Armed Forces must carry out immediate and ruthless self-accountability. Give the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) a free hand to immediately investigate on a high priority basis criminality where there is ample evidence that uniformed officers, serving or retired, have taken part. If there is any truth, these officers must be brought before military courts especially constituted for that purpose. Similarly if there is evidence against any member of the superior judiciary it must be brought to the notice of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (SC), who at his discretion may set up special court/s for that specific purpose. In both cases, unless there is a reason for national security, the exception to be so certified by the Chief Justice of the SC or the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee as the case may be, there should be a public trial. Just because a man is a General or Admiral or Air Marshal gives him no special privileges different from a Head Constable taking a bribe. This week alone in the US many Corporate CEOs were on the way of being indicted for corruption, at least two billionaires have been led away in handcuffs in full public view. The world has not come crashing down! Unless we bring the concept of equality before law into accountability, we will never be able to give NAB the credibility they richly deserve. NAB has been one of the finest initiatives of this regime, they have done tremendous work in the face of really great odds. By not carrying out accountability of the judiciary and Armed Forces NAB is being denied the accolades they need to sustain them in the political future of Pakistan. If NAB can do some high profile cases from among the many in WAPDA, KESC, Pakistan Railways, Post Offices, National Highway Authority etc and bring those richly deserving punishment to justice, it will shore up the President’s authority as being an impartial, above the board referee. For starters why not bring those who allotted amenity plots in Defense Housing Authority Karachi and Lahore to trial before a court of law?

As much as others would like to take the credit for it, the two reasons why the President has been a media success till lately is because, viz (1) this military regime took the risky but brave and correct decision to have a free print media and even the government electronic media has shown encouraging signs of loosening its tight official grip, to the military regime’s credit the few private TV channels are quite free and (2) Pervez Musharraf is a tremendous natural media star. The President does not have a good media team, and those who should be committed even though lacking media expertise, are motivated by personal and crass commercial interests. The unfortunate episode of the circus at the advent of the President’s Referendum campaign from Lahore created bad countrywide vibes and was quite unnecessary, the Punjab Government reacting to the adverse media criticism by the stage-managed baton-charge at Faisalabad that destroyed the goodwill of the past 30 months in one fatal error of reaction where self-control should have been the order of the day. There is also the matter of corruption in the electronic media, in the rumours of some individuals having proxy interest in Prime TV and another private TV channel where the Air Force pulled out Shaheen Foundation’s funds and material support. How can the CBR have any credibility of searching out tax defaulters when their own award of the Public Relations contract is tainted by having been awarded to a firm of very recent existence having no experience? We must be really naive and gullible to accept such outright corruption, the President must show courage in having this enquired into and if there is no fire where there is smoke a transparent finding will result. Most important the President must get the print media back on his side é and quickly. One of the success formulas of Agra was the smaller gathering of print media newsmen, between 12 and 15 participants attending Presidential briefings rather than the horde that is impossible to control. The President can have 3 to 4 sessions of an hour or so every week. Every third or fourth day a luncheon meeting with 5-6 Editors/senior columnists will be a great help. Instead of having a “Tamasha”, give the media personnel quality time with the President so that he has a focussed period to work his charm. His sincerity of purpose and determination of intent force-multiplies his charm quite considerably.

While the President needs to move on many other issues on a broad front, economic and social, the limitations of time restrict his maneuvering space. So he needs to be focussed and stay focussed on the crucial issues aforementioned. If the President was himself responsible for all his mistakes, one could still attempt damage control given his focussed sincerity. Since the mistakes are those of his appointees, we have to take damage control into an overdrive and the President would be well advised in his own interest which most of us believe is synonymous with the supreme interest of the nation.

Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan).

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