On December 24, Nawaz Sharif, the three-time prime minister of Pakistan, was given a seven-year jail sentence and a $25 million fine after an accountability court found him guilty in the Al-Azizia Steel Mills corruption reference. In addition, there is a 10-year disbarment from holding any public office, the part of the sentence that will be in effect after the completion of the seven-year sentence.
Sharif has been punished under the Section 9(a)(v) of the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999: “A holder of a public office, or any other person, is said to commit or to have committed the offence of corruption and corrupt practices if he or any of his dependents or benamidar owns, possesses, or has acquired right or title in any assets or holds irrevocable power of attorney in respect of any assets or pecuniary resources disproportionate to his known sources of income, which he cannot reasonably account for, or maintains a standard of living beyond that which is commensurate with his sources of income.”
On December 25, 2018, as Pakistan celebrated the 142nd birth anniversary of the founder of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, I couldn’t but help think how far from Jinnah’s vision of 1947 Pakistan stands in 2018. There are flaws of injustice, inequality and intolerance that like a tiny lesion that has metastasised throughout the body has debilitated the very foundation of a country that was built with so much hope, so much optimism.
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s commitment to turn Pakistan into a country that is a true reflection of Jinnah’s ideal and vision is irreproachable despite enormous challenges, and the result wouldn’t only be visible at the completion of his five-year term in 2023, but in every step that his government takes to tackle issues that are the root of economic and other instability gnawing at Pakistan’s very structure.
Corruption is the root cause of much that is wrong in Pakistan today. It is corruption that doesn’t merely manifest itself in the form of financial impropriety. It strikes as a hydra that is hard to kill. It is a malaise that Jinnah warned of when Pakistan didn’t exist, and Jinnah was still an Indian: “One of the biggest curses from which India is suffering–I do not say that other countries are free from it, but I think our condition is much worse–is bribery and corruption. That really is a poison.”
Proven or unproven, corruption is as a much a reality of Pakistan as its geographical location. It is. The miniscule political elite made up of a few families and their cronies is alleged of accumulation of wealth beyond their apparent resources, misappropriation of national treasury in ways that are hard to discover or prove but whose effects are visible in the shambles of a country that Imran Khan inherited as its prime minister in August 2018, and ill-advised overspending and over-invoicing of government money on projects that while appearing groundbreaking in theory ended up breaking Pakistan’s monetary backbone.
What has been missing all this time is a substantial, workable and result-oriented system of accountability, of checks and balances. Each new government lists the ills left by the previous government, of the corruption that has destroyed the country, and of the ways in which it will be tackled. Much is said, and nothing happens. The vicious circle of repetition of bad practices of one government after the other keeps Pakistan ensnared in a web of its own making: of turning a blind eye and a self-serving agenda of keeping the status quo of immunity and invincibility in perpetuity.
Accountability is a cliché dismissively used by the ruling elite to maintain the patina of self-righteousness and moral goodness. Until Khan’s government came into power in Islamabad.
Khan’s fight for the last 22 years has remained unchanged: to rid Pakistan of corruption, to have a system of accountability, and to form a social welfare state in which all Pakistanis have a fair chance to live with dignity. Khan’s mission to have a corruption-free Pakistan is neither easy nor is it a short-term plan. What it is: it has started. And Khan’s confidence to make it a reality is a reminder of what Jinnah said: “My message to you all is of hope, courage and confidence. Let us mobilise all our resources in a systematic and organised way and tackle the grave issues that confront us with grim determination and discipline worthy of a great nation.”
What is imperative today is to understand that accountability must be a continuous process, and it must not only be put in motion once a government in power is no longer in power. From top to bottom, transparency in all matters financial must be the starting point. Each public financial transaction must have a verifiable record. Each allegation of financial inappropriateness must have an immediate investigation. Each accused must be given a fair trial. And each sentence awarded to an accused proven guilty of corruption must be free of any political influence or bias. That would be the one step towards the great Pakistan Jinnah envisioned, and that is the Pakistan all Pakistanis, notwithstanding their political affiliation, would wish to see their children grow up in.
What is also imperative today is to establish a system in which there is no suspicion or accusation of a political witch-hunt. Accountability is not a tool to threaten your political rivals with, or to establish an uneven playing field in which the only players are those of your own team. Accountability is not a weapon to intimidate out-of-power politicians but a mechanism that ensures that no misdeed is ignored or pardoned. Accountability is a system that penalises the guilty, inculcating a system of introspection and self-check in those who are still in power to not exploit the trust vested in them by their voters. Accountability is the system that is not just to punish misdeeds of politicians but also those of army generals, judges and tycoons–no one, and I repeat no one, must be above the law. Not a general, not a judge, not a tycoon.
Accountability is the system that is not merely in existence to check the alleged financial malpractices of the former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and the former president Asif Zardari and their families. Accountability is also to keep under strict vigilance the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan and his family. Accountability of all, without any discrimination, without any favour, without any fear, without any self-serving agenda.
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s singular focus to make Pakistan a great country, to do it with honesty and sincerity giving it his all, to do it without fear of failure, and to motivate all Pakistanis to do their best for Pakistan is to me that idea of Pakistan of Mohammad Ali Jinnah that in his words was: “With faith, discipline and selfless devotion to duty, there is nothing worthwhile that you cannot achieve.”
I know one day Jinnah’s Pakistan will be a reality. One step at a time.