Crisis of Conscience vs Skewed Accountability
By Imtiaz Gul
Weekly Pulse, Islamabad December 21, 2007
Let us consider the following as a starting point before we speak of conscience and accountability, as our leaders pontificate:
* How many junkets former Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and president Pervez Musharraf undertook at the state expense?
* How many people the caretaker Prime Minister Soomro has taken along for Haj/Umra at the state expense?
* Pakistan embassy in Washington and the Mission in New York paying even for the undergarments of visiting Pakistani journalists and their families.
* Ministry of Information and those running it digging deep into their funds to foot food and shopping bills of dozens of journalists accompanying the prime minister and the president in the march of enlightened moderation (despite advance payments under the Daily Allowance and Travel Allowance heads)
* An Ambassador, who earlier showered his largess as a governor, inviting and entertaining half a dozen journalists from his province twice at state expense
* Ministry of Religious Affairs doling out Haj junkets to people of choice, many of them filthy rich but proud to avail a free Haj
* A prime minister (Shaukat Aziz) taking dozens of officials, cronies and journalists just to submit a report to UN officials late 2006.
These are just a few examples of the impunity with which our leaders are blowing away the money that the public pay through their noses ( dozens of taxes including GST, surcharges etc being charged even on edibles).
Now, contrast these examples with the favourite themes peddled every now and then by the highest offices in the country; rule of law, merit, good governance, and accountability of the corrupt.
The foremost logical inference that this contrast yields would read like this: mere lip service to the rule of law and merit, selective application of accountability, complete disregard for public sentiment on how the state institutions gobble up and fritter away their money and a phenomenal indifference to the questions that would usually cause leaders in a civilized country to step down.
Where is the conscience and what about the accountability?
Now, let us consider a letter that an anguished friend wrote to some of us and which also explains some of the issues raised above:
“Let me take you all to a picture that appeared on the front page of major newspapers, on Friday, December 29, 2006 where a youth is half naked and police is beating him incessantly. It maybe a usual scene in the minds of my readers but what unusual is that he was beaten in front of his mother, Mrs. Masood and was stripped naked in front of her eyes. Youth’s name is Muhammad Bin Masood. His fault: he was protesting, along with many others, against the mysterious, illegal and unlawful detention of his father who “disappeared” in some time in 2003 as part of the crackdown on terrorists. On wonders if this is another gift of Musharraf’s cooperation in “war on terror” or is this the part of his “enlightened moderation” campaign where his government would use the police machinery to strip naked young sons in front of their mothers’ eyes?
“ In another picture on the front page of an Urdu newspaper a “young girl of some 10-12 years of age is weeping with an ultimate helplessness on his face and joining her hands in a miserable demand in front of a police officer – missing from the picture – demanding to meet her father. (Desire) for meeting with the father; is this a crime? When was the last time the ones who tortured the protestors saw their daughters and loved every moment of their company? Maybe a night before they unleashed violence on those who were only demanding to know the whereabouts their relatives who by a (fateful) chance also happen to be Pakistani citizens!”
For the sake of saving space, let us skip the rest of the letter by the friend, whose job bars him from being quoted our published. But the essence of the letter revolved around the question; “shouldn’t these inhabitants/residents of the Land of the Pure be given a right to be with their families especially when no court of law has indicted them in any criminal offense? I can envision the great “slap minister” (read Federal Law Minister) holding his chine with one hand and scratching his head with the other to think of a response to this question, which is more difficult than rocket science.”
After almost six decades of existence, the friend wrote, most of the Pakistanis are struggling to get a clean glass of water and either must pay heavily to educate their children privately, or be content with the rag-tag government schools.
The friend also recalled an August 11, 1947 speech by Mohammad Ali Jinnah: “…We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State. Pakistan may not be failing as a state but its spirit certainly is.”
Keeping all this in view, one can safely conclude that even 60 years of commitments to democracy and pontifications on the virtues of good citizenship, merit and the need for rule of law, the state of Pakistan suffers from a grave crisis of conscience, credibility, corruption and professional dishonesty (of thought and intellect), a complete contravention of what the founding father had stated in his aforementioned address to the first constituent assembly in 1947. I will not tolerate nepotism, bigotry, indifference to the lives and property of the citizens, was the message he gave in his pungent speech.
But, not only did this message disappear into the mist of dirty political maneuverings and the ensuing military incursions, most Pakistanis, taking cue from politicians – both with and without uniform – also lost their dignity. And losing dignity amounts to burying the conscience for short-term selfish gains. As an avoidable consequence, most foreigners look at Pakistanis in general as cheats and liars who somersault whenever expedient. And the list includes scores of luminaries from the establishment – politicians, generals, businessmen and media persons (owners, writers and intellectuals).
The unscrupulous race for power, money and position is on – with total disregard to the internationally accepted norms of governance, civility, and accountability. The conscience is asleep, and those wielding power are busy round the clock to perpetuate the status quo and rule supreme at the cost of the dominant majority of Pakistani taxpayers.
What sort of Pakistan are we developing for our children? Scores of NGOs, set up by retired bureaucrats and army officers, have acted no differently, contributing to the crisis of credibility, and plummeting the trust of the country as a whole, in the name of child labour, women trafficking, bonded labour, and human rights, regardless of what they do to the rights of servants at home and employees in their offices.
If we cast a critical eye on the media landscape, we have scores of unscrupulous owners who champion the cause of press freedom, of human rights and untiringly speak of the rampant corruption. Their deeds, however, are no different from merry-makers, blackmailers and drug traffickers, and extortionists. Among them are people who preach Islamic values, but treat their workers as slave-workers.
A former information minister, then with Nawaz Sharif League, had once quoted one of his guests from the United States as saying that the biggest problem facing Pakistanis was that of integrity and honesty. But soon after his release from house detention, the gentleman switched sides and joined the Musharraf-Shujaat League.
Ahsan Iqbal, a Pakistan Muslim League leader, said more or less the same while issuing a white paper on the 2001 referendum; a commission comprising retired Supreme Court judges should investigate the whole exercise and figure out how the state machinery was used for the vote. The commission should institute a mechanism to prevent abuse of authority once for all, he had said. But can the judiciary dare something like this after the surgery it went through on Nov 3?
Sadly, hardly do we find people who refuse to compromise the oath of their office; once in the driving seat, almost all incumbents tend to acquiesce in crime, corruption and cronyism. People, who sermonize others on the virtues of honesty and of patriotism, hand out state money to those who advocated their cause. As a consequence, the state of Pakistan stands bruised and bashed. We must all take the blame for it.
(The author heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad.