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.