Apr 22

Rule of Law

Posted on Friday, April 22, 2016 in The Friday Times (Editorial)

General Raheel Sharif has grabbed the headlines yet again. He says that: (1) “the war against terrorism and extremism being fought with the backing of the entire nation cannot bring enduring peace and stability unless the menace of corruption is also uprooted; (2) Therefore, across the board accountability is necessary for the solidarity, integrity and prosperity of Pakistan; (3) Pakistan’s Armed Forces will fully support every meaningful effort in that direction.”

The statement is doubly significant. First, it plays to the popular gallery whilst Panama Leaks rages as the hottest subject of the day. With every party and institution demanding accountability, how could our beloved armed forces be silent? Second, it seems to trump the return of the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, from a controversial trip to London for “medical reasons” during which it was wildly speculated that he might have run away to hide his stolen cache. Third, it puts the government and prime minister on the spot by demanding “across the board accountability”, which implies that the prime minister, his family and ruling party should particularly be subjected to it. Fourth, it puts the military’s weight behind efforts for “meaningful” steps in that direction, which means a credible, transparent and effective enquiry commission in line with the universal demand of the time, and lending the services of its intelligence agencies to it.

That said, one important question arises: Is this statement some sort of “show-cause” notice to Mr Nawaz Sharif to “shape up or ship out”? We think not. If General Sharif had harboured Bonapartist tendencies, he would have struck during Imran Khan’s dharna last year when conditions were ripe. Indeed, if he had had a change of heart subsequently, he would have recently nudged Imran Khan to announce a date for the long march on Raiwind and winked at Tahir ul Qadri of Canada and the Chaudhries of Gujrat to line up behind the march. But he hasn’t done anything of the sort.

For once, Khwaja Asif, the defense minister, has been wrong-footed. He thinks this statement is perfectly in order because “the army, like the judiciary, is an important organ of the state and constitution and its views are legitimate.” But Pervez Rashid, the official spokesman of the prime minister, has been more forthcoming. He has tried to finesse the army chief’s statement by actually owning the fight against corruption and pointing to its declining trend during the tenure of his government. But he has also tagged the point that an army regime (General Pervez Musharraf’s) included many corrupt people. More significantly, he has tried to steer the accountability debate in the direction of parliament as opposed to those demanding an army-cum-judicial intervention to target the corrupt.

General Sharif’s statement links corruption directly to terrorism rather than indirectly through governance and criminality as argued in a speech last May by Lt Gen Nadeem Mukhtar, Corps Commander Karachi.

The empirical evidence does not support any causal relationship between corruption and terrorism or religious extremism, ie, corruption, ipso facto, does not lead to terrorism. Some of the most corrupt countries in the world, like India, Argentina, China, Russia, etc., are not victims of terrorism. Indeed, most countries racked by civil war and anarchy or dictatorship – like Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, Angola, Afghanistan, North Korea, Yemen, Eritrea, Syria — are amongst the most corrupt, but corruption is a consequence of war, anarchy and dictatorship, not a cause of it. It is also pertinent that none of the Pakistanis named in Panama Leaks is alleged to be a terrorist or has links with any terrorist organization.

General Sharif’s reference to “across the board accountability” is also problematic if it is not to be taken as a cliché. Accountability, like charity, must begin at home. Unfortunately, the military, like the judiciary, has hardly ever been accountable even as both institutions have periodically carried out the accountability of all others “suo motu”. In effect, the phrase “across the board accountability” is bandied about in relation to politicians only. But the truth is that in the lexicon of the modern nation state it refers to the “rule of law’ which is applicable to all, high or low, civil or military. By that criterion, a financial crime is no less culpable – and therefore open to accountability — than a political or constitutional one like a coup d’etat. So when General Sharif links accountability with stability and prosperity, he should know that the civil-military bureaucracy is no less culpable – and therefore accountable – than the politicians for laying Pakistan low on both counts. The rule of law and constitution – hence stability and prosperity as in all law abiding nation-states — has been more damaged by the military than any other institution in the history of Pakistan but it has never been held accountable.

It is also worth reflecting on why Pakistanis keep voting for the same corrupt political parties time and again and why the unaccountable military remains the most trusted and loved institution of all in the country.

Apr 20

Aapas Ki Baat -20 April 2016

Posted on Wednesday, April 20, 2016 in Aapas ki baat with Najam Sethi on Geo

Apr 19

Aapas Ki Baat -19 April 2016

Posted on Tuesday, April 19, 2016 in Aapas ki baat with Najam Sethi on Geo

Apr 18

Aapas Ki Baat -18 April 2016

Posted on Monday, April 18, 2016 in Aapas ki baat with Najam Sethi on Geo

Apr 15

Sharif vs Sharif

Posted on Friday, April 15, 2016 in The Friday Times (Editorial)

Panama Leaks is still leaking and raising discomfort levels all round. The prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, is particularly vulnerable, even though his adult businessmen sons, and not he, are beneficial owners of off-shore companies that have invested in UK properties where they are both resident/domiciled. In the rough and tumble of Pakistan, this issue has been progressively transformed from a legal one to a moral one and now a political one in which the demand for the prime minister’s resignation is simply not going away.

With hindsight, it appears that the PM was badly advised to address the nation on a personal issue regarding the business practices of his children. Instead of dispelling doubts and pre-empting adverse fallout, the speech has only served to fan the flames and inflate it into a mega-issue. With hindsight too, it seems that the two media interviews given by Hassan and Hussain Nawaz Sharif a couple of weeks before the dirt hit the fan have rebounded on the Sharifs.

Mr Sharif’s pledge to establish a commission of inquiry of retired judges has also failed to fly. If he had quickly laid down non-controversial terms of reference and asked the chief justice of Pakistan to set up such a commission, his critics would not have had a field day lambasting him.

Imran Khan is leading the pack. He sees this as a God given opportunity to dislodge Mr Sharif. The PPP is making the right noises because there is no other popular choice, but Aitzaz Ahsan is playing the bad cop to Khurshid Shah’s good cop and Asif Zardari is wisely silent. Who knows how many offshore companies are stocked in the PPP’s larder and when that will be flung open?

Those who have stashed away illegal wealth in such companies are the real culprits who should be brought to book. But in the nasty current mood of the country, even those who have got an off-shore company for doing legal business with tax-paid earnings remitted abroad through normal banking channels are also morally culpable for investing abroad instead of in their own country. Of course, this position is wrong because it flies against the very notion of legal capital mobility in search of competitive returns that is the lynch pin of the modern global economy. But no one is listening. The bloodlust of the middle classes against the very rich won’t be quenched by legal niceties.

For Imran Khan, it is now or never. He has been prime minister in-waiting for 20 years, having missed the bus many times, and is now desperately looking for short cuts to get to the prime minister’s house in Islamabad. But he is beset with two problems. First, his party is in disarray and facing a crisis of credibility. The membership of the PTI has fallen from 8 million to 2 million. The crowds have thinned. The rage has gone. The central leaders are at each other’s throats and three definite political groupings are jockeying for top positions in the hierarchy. The election commissioners have resigned and intra-party polls have been indefinitely postponed. And Imran is sounding like a scratchy long-playing record of yesteryear. He has got to instill purpose and energy into the PTI so that it once again looks and feels like a credible challenger for power.

Second, Imran senses that if the Sharifs complete their term in 2017, and local election results are a sign of the times, they will most likely win the next elections and consolidate power for another five years. That will put paid to all his political ambitions by sowing the seeds of gradual despair and dissolution in the PTI. Therefore the best way to avoid this fate is to gird his loins and launch another movement to heave out Nawaz Sharif. Consequently, a rally in an Islamabad park is planned for April 24, followed by a long march on the Raiwind estate of the Sharifs.

The government has vowed to stop both protests in their tracks. So a degree of resistance and violence may be expected. But this can only benefit the PTI by providing it with a badge of martyrdom.

Pundits are eagerly looking out for tell tale signs of the end of the Sharif regime. Are the other parties banding together behind Imran? What are the plans of Maulana Tahir ul Qadri, that off-shore asset of the “establishment” who likes to be billed as the angel of death? Are the perennial opening batsmen of the military, the Chaudhries of Gujrat, getting overly frisky again? Is the civil-military balance stable or are the frustrations and tensions increasing?

The answers are pending two bigger questions. First, is Raheel Sharif getting ready for retirement or is he spreading his wings? Second, should push come to shove, will Nawaz Sharif throw in the towel rather than risk defiance of the other Sharif?

Right now, someone should tell Imran Khan that one Sharif is not ready to quit and the other Sharif is not ready to take over.