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Clean and neat politicians

Amir Khakwani

The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.

I was with my friends at a gathering when someone mentioned the PPP and its current leadership. A friend said despite a million differences with her, Benazir Bhutto was not corrupt, but party leaders after her were involved in massive corruption and destroyed the party. A jiyala friend interjected to tell him if a single corruption case has been proved. There was silence for a few moments before everyone starting arguing. We narrated numerous incidents and observations by the close aides of the ‘Big Boss’. But our friend was undeterred as he listened calmly and then said, “Tell me if there has been any conviction by any court for corruption?”

A similar incident was before the Panama scandal. There was a debate in a forum regarding the Sharif family who were slammed for their London flats. A few journalists who seemed from the PML-N camp were also present giving their keen observations on the matter. The talks ended abruptly on the pretext that if the court convicts the Sharif family on corruption charges, then they will accept of otherwise these are mere allegations.

A journalist mocked his PML-N supporter colleague and said that no corruption allegations has been proved against the Chaudhry Brothers. Then why is there still a drumbeat about their properties in Spain and elsewhere? And why are allegations of Surrey Palace, necklaces and Swiss courts being levelled against the PPP without being proved by the courts?

We should remain ethical during any conversation rather than merely raising baseless allegations without any evidence.  Unless a court convicts someone, the media cannot call him a criminal but rather a suspect. However, should this be followed until the courts come to a decision?

Forget the old days, the fact is that no ruler has been convicted of corruption since General Zia’s era. Everyone is clean and neat.

Nawaz Sharif was accused of buying property in London, receiving kickbacks from motorways which was not proved for a long time. The Panama Papers scandal fell on Sharif from the skies and he lost his prime ministership and was also imprisoned. He has been dubious honour of being actually sentenced by an accountability court. They were many other scandals such as the video of a judge while an appeal is still pending in the courts.

Benazir Bhutto also faces corruption cases during the 90s and letters were also written to Swiss courts. Interestingly, Benazir and her spokesmen used to claim they had no connection with Surrey Palace. Years later, it was revealed that they had sold the luxurious palace. Party workers and ordinary voters have short memories and don’t seem to remember this.

General Pervez Musharraf ruled with an iron fist for many years whose hands were stained with blood in Balochistan and Lal Masjid. There is even criticism over his properties in UAE which he attributed to the generosity of the royal family. Opponents consider it corruption but nothing has happened. Nawaz Sharif tried unsuccessfully to convict him under Article 6 instead of accusing him of corruption.

During Musharraf’s time, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi was chief minister of Punjab. His son, who has been made a federal minister after much effort, has also named in the Pandora Papers. When Elahi was chief minister, his son’s name emerged in many cases. The PML-N and PPP levelled numerous allegations of corruption against him. It is almost fourteen years since Chaudhry left as chief minister but there has been no difference in his transparency. After being out for a few years, he has now become the Speaker of the Punjab Assembly and is very active in power politics.

After Pervez Musharraf came Zardari’s ‘golden age’ which is not far and we can easily find proof. There have been many allegations against Yousuf Raza Gilani. He did a lot of development in his hometown Multan but lost the election due to his worse public image. After nearly ten years since leaving power, nothing has been proved against Gilani and his sons.

After Zardari, Nawaz Sharif came and was gone while his younger brother was chief minister in Punjab for nearly ten years. During Imran Khan’s era, Shehbaz Sharif and his sons also came on the NAB radar and money laundering cases are ongoing against this entire family. It is considered a strong, open and shut case in legal terms and NAB claims that there is no chance of their survival but his supporters still deny the allegations.

I asked a lawyer and a court reporter for details about the case. He said that with the pace at which the case is being handled in the accountability court, there is no possibility of a verdict for the next two years. Interestingly, the corruption has not even taken place in Pakistan. To date, no civilian or non-civilian ruler has ever been convicted of corruption. Everyone is honest, truthful and the allegations are mere propaganda.

Why is the accountability situation in the country so bad? If there was no plunder then where were the resources spent? How did we get $122 billion in debt today? About half of the revenue is spent only on interest and repayment of loans, and more loans have to be taken to run the country. If our judicial system is not strong enough to hold the rulers accountable then is not being improved? If there is burden on the courts and judges cannot make quick decisions, then why are they not being increased? There are 17 judges in the Supreme Court but if there were thirty, would it be an expensive deal? What will be the cost if the number of high court judges is doubled and size of lower courts is increased? It is safe to say that it will cost far less than a metro bus in one city.

It is often asked what the most important problem in Pakistan is. I think our outdated system of accountability, rotten justice system is the biggest problem. If this improves, we can answer which of our rulers is transparent and is corrupt will be found.