Democracy definitely is not the perfect system of government, but it is better than all other systems hitherto tried by human societies. Churchill was incorrect when he observed “except all the others that have been tried”; if he had had even a small portion of the acumen so commonplace among Pakistan’s “intelligentsia” in the backdrop of dharnas, he would have stopped after saying “Democracy is the worst form of government”. If Churchill had been lucky enough to live upto the Imran-led dharnas of 2015 Pakistan, our “intel-l-actuals” would have shown him how they had discovered at least two other forms of government which far outweighed democracy in terms of quality and delivery namely “military dictatorship” and “controlled democracy”. “It is by dint of these two forms of government that Pakistan has turned into what it is today in the shortest stint of 68 years”, they might have argued with Churchill.
If we talk of western democracies where the theory and practice actually evolved into its present shape, physical force of state is vested in some individuals and institutions but its use is also subjected to the accountability by democratic oversight. It’s precisely because of that equilibrium between authority to use force and fear of democratic oversight that democratic societies have developed justice-based systems in the West.
But if we talk of nascent democracies of third world, the individuals or institutions, which are vested with physical force by the people, start using it to suppress the democratic aspirations of their masters i.e the people. Freeing themselves from the fear of accountability through democratic oversight, quite conversely, such individuals and institutions start accountability of the democracies themselves. There reaches a point when democracies are demonized through sponsored campaigns.
And alibis of all sorts become a cover for ambition for power. If we examine polity of Pakistan from this angle, we would find a lot of amusement going on. Chaudhary Nisar, who apparently is in the command of forces, declares that forces could not be allowed to take on mission of accountability which is not the task assigned to them. But the forces seem not to be inclined to pay any heed to their apparent commander. Logic being that, if we have force at our disposal, we can do everything, including accountability. Might is right! Resultantly, a flimsy effort to connect mega corruption of Dr. Asim with terror financing is afoot just to bring him in the ambit of 90 days remand, a newly found fascination. Anyone knowing the basics would accept connection of Asif Ali Zardari and his PPP with anything evil under the sun but terrorism. Ironically, this is happening when the real terror financing is going on quite smoothly and has been thought best not to be touched.
So, we are hearing mantra of accountability everywhere. Form “the days of Zardari have been numbered”, through “clutches of accountability are creeping towards land of five rivers” to “noose is being tightened on Nawaz” media is abuzz with all sorts of gossips. But if one asks who is going to do all that, one can’t but laugh away after hearing what is in stock.
In corrupt societies like ours everyone wants accountability, but accountability of others. Those who live in glass houses throw more stones; perhaps the underlying thought is that the corruption that others commit should not be allowed because in doing so they encroach upon our prerogative. Interestingly, the apportionment of time-periods subject to scrutiny by “Mission Accountability” speaks volumes of the real objective, as they are strictly those falling under civilian elected governments. The corruption of PML-Q governments of “controlled democracy” have not qualified to be included in this mission, for the reasons best known to every right-minded person. The distinction between the allegations of corruption against Zardari & co. and allegations of corruption against Musharraf & co. has been clearly made but somehow the same had been managed to remain hidden from public consumption with the help of vast propaganda machinery at the disposal. The ministers of PML-Q that have been assigned to “Operation Change” cannot be touched, nor those who have joined ranks of PMLN and are selflessly carrying the “burden” of power.
Similarly, Musharraf’s wealth, the details of which have been published in this newspaper along-with details of account numbers and the deposits it those accounts cannot be questioned because that may endanger the security of Pakistan or the prestige of institution.
But what about the prestige of democratic institution which is being subjected to sponsored vilification on the daily basis? “Mission Accountability” is just an eyewash; not a single penny of loot money would ever be recovered, nor would a single big fish be sentenced, for the simple reason, that that is not the real intention.
What, then, is the real intention?
Ever since self-styled “mard-e-momin, mard-e-Haq” overthrew Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s elected civilian government (that had already reached a political settlement with opposition over allegations of rigging), the pattern is consistent. All-powerful establishment, dominated by military and intelligence arms of state, which had already wrested the reins from the founding fathers in early years of power struggle had emerged as a formidable challenger to the budding democracy. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, once an active member of the oligarchic club himself that Pakistan’s establishment is, had ascended to the political prominence on a fast track mode by using friendship between his Iranian wife Nusrat Bhutt and the Iranian wife of the then dictator Major General Iskandar Mirza, Naheed Amirtemur. After General Ayub exiled Iskandar Mirza to London, Bhutto who ratted Iskandar Mirza over Mr. Jinnah, if one of his letters was to be believed, discovered a “daddy” in General Ayub and won the coveted position of Foreign Minister form the dictator. Finally the things had come to such a pretty pass that Butto, maddened by his ambition, challenged his erstwhile “daddy” General Ayub Khan and became a “champion” of democracy in Pakistan. What happened thereafter is history. General Zia’s black era touched new heights of rigging but no long-marches followed; corruption remained rampant as before but no accountability missions entailed. The pattern that emerged out of that history is persistent till today. A complete mum is ensured for unconstitutional dictatorial rule, but, on the other hand, allegation of rigging becomes the favorite weapon to soften the target i.e elected civilian government; and once softened the target is then finished by hitting with a lethal bludgeon (“threat to national security”, “chaos” etc.) In nineties, a new weapon of accountability was added to the arsenal, mainly tracing its genesis from the corruption marathon triggered by misadventures of “Operation Midnight Jackal” and Mehran Bank Scandal. At a point, Nawaz Sharif, although a participatory beneficiary of those operations and scandals himself, too was found having locked horns, hence, he turned a “democrat” like Bhutto to fulfill his ambitions. By then, he had had the taste of his own pudding in the form of long marches and accountability drives. Power struggle eventually resulted in another black era of unconstitutional rule by General Pervaiz Musharraf. In his tenure, massive rigging and mega corruption ruled the roost in our polity, but no long-marches or accountability drives followed, which, it can be safely supposed, were put in reserve for the future elected civilian governments. Nightmare of a peaceful transition from one civilian government to the other occurred despite best efforts. By the time Nawaz Government started its third stint, it was already too much; hence the old specters of long-marches and dharnas started appearing from the crevices of the graves where they remained buried for long 9 years of Musharraf rule; they softened the target as before, effectively. Now was the turn of the lethal bludgeon to hit. Thus is unleashed this weapon, the alibi of accountability.
The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad. He is a former diplomat.