Accountability is not an attack on, or a threat to democracy. Purporting this foul and flawed narrative is equivalent to purporting that vitamins are bad for health. Corruption is a disease that plagues democracy, or any system of government for that matter. Moral, financial or intellectual, corruption eats at the roots of a state. Unchecked, it enfeebles the foundations and eventually collapses the system that stands on them. Corruption is unquestionably the root of all vices that bring a country to its knees.
Never have we witnessed accountability in its truest manifestation; fair, stern and across the board. On every rare occasion when accountability was initiated, there were sacred cows that eluded the process. The doctrines of political necessity, conciliation and survival of “democracy” were used to exempt a few and try the others. Accountability was often used as a tool for political victimization and never for cleansing our society and state. As a consequence the disease spread from institution to institution and person to person turning Pakistan from a victim of this disease to almost the disease itself. Parliament, bureaucracy, media, judiciary, services industry etc. all have been infected. Corruption has become a norm instead of an exception. Money became the only and most effective tool for nuisance and influence. Your wealth replaced your driving skills and knowledge of the traffic rules when getting a driver’s license. Money diminished the want for being not guilty to be acquitted in a trial. It bent the rules of immigration and customs checking at airports, rendered obsolete the want of knowledge to pass an exam. In essence, money became law of the land.
The introduction of plea bargain by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) effectively closed the doors to any material accountability and the loot-billions-pay-millions-walk-free formula was adopted by many. This was not accountability, it was instead the validation of ill-gotten wealth, a purchasable clean chit. It became an incentive for the corrupt when actually reprimand and retribution were needed.
Yet again the bugle of accountability has sounded. Yet again the nation hopes for it to be real this time. The cart is apparently being pushed by the military establishment whereas the civilian setup seems to have chosen to stand before the cart rather than behind it. It is a failure on part of the political parties to have allowed this perception. In public view, it is a good versus evil battle, and sides are to be chosen wisely, for institutions and not for individuals. There ought not be any loyalty or affiliation to a political party greater than the loyalty to an institution. There ought not be any loyalty to an institution greater than your loyalty to the state.
Despite statements to the contrary, the perception of a civil-military divide is very much alive. In reality, this divide is the actual threat to democracy, to the state and its institutions. China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a top priority for Pakistan’s civil and military establishments. The two main hindrances; terrorism and corruption, are to be rooted out. Accountability drives in the past were not motivated by something as huge as CPEC, and there lies the hope that this time will be different. There might not be a way around, this may well be the time to come clean or go home. The question is whether political parties will be willing to sacrifice their institutions for a few individuals.
Leaders of all mainstream political parties i.e. Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN), Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Tehrik e Insaf (PTI) are claiming probity. That is all the more reason to jump on the accountability bandwagon, cleanse their respective political parties of any and all corrupt elements and turn a new page wherein an actual democracy may flourish.
The dishonorable dismissal of a dozen serving military officials on charges of corruption is how the Chief has displayed his resolve to place the state before his institution or any individual. For the first time in our history high ranking officers of Pakistan Army have been publicly reprimanded for a crime. And it will not end here, several investigations and proceedings are underway. The civilian side now needs to act. There are bureaucrats, politicians and businessmen whose journey to wealth and fortune is marred with allegations of corruption and misconduct. There are many who have owned up to these allegations and gone for a plea bargain.
Corruption cannot be eradicated overnight. It is a cancer which will need several different kinds of treatment. It may take years to root it out completely, and this has to be the first year. Regardless of the frightening paranoia of Military going for another intervention, politicians, judges and bureaucrats need to hold themselves accountable. All references against members of the bench pending with the Supreme Judicial Council should be addressed and proceeded with. All allegations against members of parliament and provincial assemblies need to be investigated and same is to be done in case of bureaucrats. Being the Chief Executive of Pakistan, our Prime Minister needs to play this wisely. He needs to realize that this is happening one way or the other. He should not let some unwise friends, advisers or sycophants choose sides for him. It’s his own name that is going to go down in history on the page of his choosing. It’s his parliament that stands to gain or lose strength, significance, relevance and its existence. Most importantly, this is a service to the very democracy that he so loves, not an attack on, or a conspiracy against it.