If, in Pakistan’s current political context, farce had a synonym it would be the current headless accountability process, exemplified by the abortive placement on the exit control list (ECL) of 172 PPP politicians and bureaucrats named in the infamous money laundering case.
If vanity and recklessness had another name, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) would probably fit it. If absurdity had another name, it would be the idea of replacing the PPP government in Sindh through a vote of no confidence or through the Governor’s rule into the open.
Those PTI wizards and their allies who played with these thoughts actually don’t deserve the offices they hold. The simple reason: we now live in the time of an assertive judicial establishment.
And PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto took all of this to ludicrous levels by claiming his party could knock down the PTI government in the Centre and send its leaders to jail within days, ‘if (ex) President Zardari so permitted’.
But the new establishment (judiciary) deflated the entire drama by snubbing the PTI mavericks like never before – daring them to impose the Governor’s rule and then see the consequence.
All this wound down with a clarification from the Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, who denied the ‘perception’ that the PTI government had any intention to interfere in Sindh affairs.
This indeed was a sheepish effort to cover up the PTI-led shrills that rang for two days out of Karachi. The Supreme Court, should one say, showed them their place, cautioning the Center against Governor’s Rule any where in Pakistan. What an embarrassment for PM Imran Khan, who identified poverty, illiteracy, injustice and corruption as the four ills he wants to fight in 2019.
What are the conclusions from these rapid developments and the circuitous politics that we are witnessing since the PTI government took over a little over five months ago?
Firstly, NAB seems to be filled with a sense of invincibility and wants to act against everyone accused of corruption in this country; in October, it had to open investigations against nearly six dozen politicians, including five former prime ministers: Nawaz Sharif, Shaukat Aziz, Raja Pervez Ashraf, Yousuf Raza Gilani and Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain. Additionally, NAB is pursuing hundreds of cases all over Pakistan, realising little that this way it looks more like an over-armed Goliath and the light-moving David. The burden of hundreds, if not thousands of cases, keeps pulling NAB down beside tarnishing its image for singularly pursuing the opposition-only cases.
Secondly, four “i’s” i.e. inexperience, inordinate posturing, indiscretion and inaction ( as it appears right now) define the current government’s approach. Behind the scenes, one assumes, a lot of work is underway to chalk out the road-map for achieving the targets that PM Khan has set himself.
But loud and indiscreet talk by some ministers, their open aversion and hostility towards bureaucracy, and the propensity to serve as the harbinger for NAB, keeps deflecting the PM attention. No doubt this has created the strong perception that NAB, security establishment and the federal government are hand-in-glove.
Thirdly, the reckless noises against ‘corrupt’ politicians, particularly members of the Parliament, had until recently stalled the formation of various parliamentary committees because of protests by PML-N and PPP.
Khan and his cohorts had to back down from his intransigent insistence on ‘accountability’ first that had until recently stalled formation of all parliamentary committees. Little did they realise that, unless the ruling party enjoys a two-thirds majority, the Parliament and its committees function only through inclusion and consensus and not otherwise.
Fourth, and one would hope both the government and the NAB realise that accountability of white-collar crimes is a difficult proposition. Many cases relate to ‘abuse’ of power by the chief executives of the provinces or the Centre. But there is a very thin line between ‘abuse’ and ‘exercise’ of authority by these public office holders.
Despite a lot of positive measures geared towards smarter people-focused governance, huge tasks await the PTI stalwarts, including PM Khan after raising common peoples’ expectations until their electoral victory in July.
The onus of lowering political temperatures rests on the ruling party if it wants to take advantage of an immensely favourable political landscape.