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In the court of public opinion

A high-standard, non-discriminatory accountability law that brings all pillars of the state under its net should be the starting point

In the court of public opinion

For the third time in four years — the longest single stretch of time that he has been continuously prime minister in his three stints — Nawaz Sharif is battling for survival in office. Each time he had secured a five-year mandate. Twice before he was pulled from office before completing his tenure and now he again finds himself in familiar territory.

He seems all but ready to be forced into being handed an unpalatable hat-trick of the political ignominy that is the fate of all electorally-victorious leaders who are elected prime minister by a simple majority of the National Assembly.

Six times elected prime ministers have been forcefully removed from office — Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Yousaf Raza Gillani once each and Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto twice each — and not once did they lose the majority of the House that had elected them prime minister. And not once did they complete their five-year constitutional tenures.

It is in this broader backdrop that the latest trial of the prime minister must be contextualised. Sharif is awaiting possibly a decisive action by the Supreme Court next week that could cost him his office again. Looking at the trajectory of the legal trail of Sharif’s current trial, the apex court action is expected to be based on the findings and recommendations of a JIT appointed by it to investigate allegedly shady family businesses dating back four decades.

The probe scope itself is astonishing if the purpose is accountability of a prime minister in office — there is no corruption charge against Sharif linked to any of his tenures, including the current one. No specific charge of any embezzlement or kickback. He is not even mentioned in the Panama Papers. He is being probed for business dealings of his family members who have been based abroad for decades.

Politics is not the business of the military, public mandate is not the business of the judiciary and indifference to transparency and openness is not the mandate of the political parties. This has to be the guiding principle of a credible accountability mechanism.

And yet the whole action against the prime minister has been framed in the context and narrative of accountability. By the petitioners (political opponents Imran Khan, Sirajul Haq and Sheikh Rashid), by the opposition, by the media, by the higher judiciary that accepted the admissibility of a case that never went to trial and came straight to the Supreme Court, by the JIT that made no effort to mask its disdain for those being probed, and by an army of retired military officials serving as analysts on primetime talk shows who fail to see the irony of their act. 

Perceptions vs reality

The whole emphasis on accountability — by disparaging military tweets and unrestrained proclamatory statements by trial judges — is astonishing because of the way accountability is perceived and understood in Pakistan. If judges ignore the necessity of considering all those being tried as innocent until proven guilty and the political actors, military-bureaucracy complex and media refuse to consider the electoral system as the pivot of political accountability, then it is little wonder that perceptions trump procedures when it comes to formal judgements.

Consider: each time the removal of an elected prime minister has been authored, orchestrated or managed, it has been done by either the military or the judiciary and, often, both. Never by voters who actually keep bringing the same parties to power — Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) five times, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN-N) thrice. Each time the charge-sheet against elected prime ministers has been alleged corruption or abuse of office. And yet, no prime minister has ever been convicted of corruption despite suffering long trials. And yet each of the prime ministers forcefully removed served jail terms, was forced into a long exile, was hanged or murdered. But no one who undermined the constitution and hounded the country’s elected leaders has ever been punished.

Read also: Fighting till the end

Politics is not the business of the military, public mandate is not the business of the judiciary and indifference to transparency and openness is not the mandate of the political parties. This has to be the guiding principle of a credible accountability mechanism.

So much for accountability.

It was interesting to note both General Amjad of General Musharraf’s National Accountability Bureau and Rehman Malik of PPP deposing before the JIT against Sharif. Neither of them could make anything stick against Sharif in relation to corruption in public funds while they were in power despite their best efforts.

This whole shady business of accountability for convoluted purposes needs to be itself held accountable. The subversion of public mandates, the court of public opinion manipulated by generals, judges and journalists, and the steep price paid by people’s leaders needs to stop. There is no need for the convoluted Pakistani brand that passes off for accountability.

It is ridiculous that there is actually no credible accountability mechanism in Pakistan. If there was, then why would the Supreme Court need to accept personally motivated petitions to declare Sharif corrupt when neither the accountability mechanism erected by General Musharraf nor the one put in place by the Sharif-led government and the People’s Party-led parliamentary opposition failed to do so?

Exceptions & immunity

And why would any credible accountability mechanism allow for exceptions in applicability? If the military and judges have their own accountability systems, then why have they failed to punish generals who staged coups and judges who validated coups and ordered prime ministers hung and removed through 30-second symbolic punishments?

Why should, by the same yardstick of self-accountability, the politicians need the Supreme Court to hold them accountable when they have their own ‘NAB’? If the military has been directly part of politics for half of Pakistan’s existence and the other half indirectly (by, for example, running their own foreign and security policies), and the judiciary has been upholding illegal removal of prime ministers who still enjoy confidence of the National Assembly and the dissolution of legislatures when their tenures were not over, then it means these institutions also need to be held accountable by the same mechanisms. Their right to exceptions holds no ground if they are all political players.

Pakistani political history is replete with miscarriages of justice. Perpetrators have never faced justice — indeed some can be forgiven merely for having an imaginary backache — while those never formally found guilty procedurally and legally have suffered cruel fates. While the military and judiciary are, in a large part, to blame for this, the politicians cannot be absolved of their singularly spectacular failure to enact a credible accountability mechanism that simultaneously meets best standards and brings everyone into the net.

If by now the politicians have not understood that they need to reinvent the system that aims for higher principles and duties of public interest, then their inadequacy of political vision will keep them in the blind alley while allowing other institutions of the state to continue exercising exception and immunity.

It is crucial that a consensus be developed on the necessity of institutions not overstepping their limits. Exceptions, exemptions and immunity in accountability and transparency are anathema to political stability and legitimacy of governance. Different sets of rules that do not embrace basic principles and best standards of accountability cannot engender stability.

Politics is not the business of the military, public mandate is not the business of the judiciary and indifference to transparency and openness is not the mandate of the political parties. This has to be the guiding principle of a credible accountability mechanism.

Court of public opinion

If perceptions are more powerful than facts in politics then Pakistani political parties have also failed spectacularly in countering all the propaganda against them from the other institutions — through lack of public-interest politics and lack of proper transparency in governance.

How can it be alright that Pakistani leaders can conduct personal businesses with ruling families in three countries and not adversely impact national interest? How can there be no conflict of interest law that prevents military leaders — in office and immediately after retirement — accepting positions, cash prizes and other personal benefits from some rich countries that have deep political and security interests in Pakistan and the region who want us to be enemies of their enemies?

How can judges stop helping oust leaders elected by the people and not punish abuse of office that allowed judges in robes to be removed and held hostage en mass by some self-styled saviours? How can hypocritical legislators be allowed to remain in office that don’t attend parliament and keep badmouthing it? How can a constitutional package of electoral reforms, that can inject legitimacy to the election system, remain gathering dust and not be passed even though there is consensus on it?

Corruption is not just financial in nature and accountability is not just legal in variety. Corruption is also abuse of office, oath and duty. And accountability is also lack of responsibility. Punishment without conviction based on due process of law, in compliance with constitutional guarantees, is not accountability.

Governance without proactive transparency, demonstrable responsibility and accounting through regular cabinet and parliamentary oversight is corruption, not leadership.

A new high-standard, non-discriminatory transparency and accountability law that brings all pillars of the state under its net should be the starting point of a new political compact. This could help make the process of accountability just and equitable and streamline it procedurally.

But the bottom line is this: principally, the court of public opinion is the superior court as it has 200 million judges. Heed their judgement when they go out and vote, for they go out to hold their representatives accountable.

Adnan Rehmat

Adnan Rehmat
The author is a political analyst and media development specialist. He can be reached at [email protected]

10 comments

  • 1. I have gone through your article. It is requested to the entire nation to stand behind GOP for the good deeds and solve the problems of the nation with no corruption, specially the judicially system of the Pakistan must be addressed and streamline the system in an adequate manner to give justice to the people of Pakistan, specially in the land cases whereas the people are given long dates to their issues in the lower & high courts of Pakistan.
    2. The cleaning condition of Pakistan does need the attention and in this respect a long term planning must be initiated and scarab of the area must be lifted at once. The roads & streets must be paid attention and due repair of the roads also be made in this respect.
    3. Health conditions of the Hospitals may be addressed in this respect all hospitals and Mosques must be washed and clean once in a month with the help of 1122 and fire brigade services.
    I hope my proposals will be addressed for the interest of general public.

  • Dr. Asghar Javid

    Corruption and lack of accountability is pervasive in Pakistani Society! That this is accepted as the norm is a matter of shame

    Pakistan is in a state of anarchy at all levels-from the level of the individual, through the levels of the family, relatives, communities and local, to the provincial and national level

    Pakistani society is sick!

    Looking after the vulnerable segments of society-namely the poor, the dispossessed, the children, women an elderly
    is the hallmark of a civilised society. None of this is evident in practice and deed despite the empty rhetoric of of the ruling classes, who are all blameworthy of shamelessly looking after their own interests and those of the people around them. What can be more telling that having the first kalima emblazoned over the parliament building and then enacting ugly laws which are wholly contradictory to the spirit of the Kalima and dictates of Islam. The public are equally to blame for electing human devils as our rulers!

    • 100% agree. with your comments.

  • Dr. Asghar Javid

    Continued

    Our Maker will hold us all accountable for all our actions and deeds-remember accountability will be proportional to level of responsibility of the individual in society; the ruling elite and, in particular, the head of the nation, namely the prime minister , will have the strictest examination of their conduct in the court of the Almighty and rightly so as all matters-economic, financial, employment, social, educational, ethical and moral integrity-flow from the laws and legislation enacted by the ruling elite. The lack of provision of facilities by the state to the public, especially to the vulnerable, which it rightly deserves , is a damning indictment of the current bankrupt national order

    May the ruling elite, the corrupt public and private institutions all be sent to hell!

    May the Sharifs’ and the Zardaris’ of this world perish! they may escape justice in this world but in the hereafter they will be severely punished and thrown into the conflagration

  • Shahed Sadullah

    An excellent article but one which, I am afraid, will not be understood by the overwhelming majority in the Pakistan of today, where perception, as created by a host of baying TV anchors, is all that counts. It will take another hundred years for Pakistanis to realise that there is nothing democratic about activism and the fact that the country has thrown out six elected leaders, hanging one and exiling another, with that count on the verge of extending to seven, is not a record to be proud of.

    • Dr. Asghar Javid

      Just as there is no rule of law in the country to bring Sharif to account , there was no mechanism to bring the so called elected leaders-read human devils- to account in. the past and thus the forces of natural justice saw an end to their vicious subhuman rule!

      Let us send the establishment and the ruling elite to hell! And that will, I am afraid, be only possible by a revolution to usher in a new Islamic world order. The current dispensation will not surrender willingly!

  • “there is no corruption charge against Sharif linked to any of his tenures, including the current one. No specific charge of any embezzlement or kickback”
    This bare fact staring everyone in the face should make people ask questions, to wonder at the cry of “accountability” but it does not.
    The prolonged campaign of propaganda against Nawaz Sharif has been completely successful in brainwashing even more than that population of the public which is always ready to commit self harm and stays eager to riot at the drop of a hat.
    By now educated Pakistanis should have understood that interrupting or destabilizing representative civilian rule is injurious to national institutions and to our economy. They exhibit no such understanding.

  • In signing the Hague Convention Pakistan opens itself upto abuse of its own Pakistani children by automatically ceding to the foriegn government’s family court request for a child’s return to its mere ‘birth’ country, but not necessarily where the child feels secure or at home. The Convention excludes the overriding principle of the ‘best interests’ of the child which is in contravention of Islamic law to which Pakistan is bound as a matter of precedence. In fact in signing up to the Hague Convention, Pakistan would find itself in violation of its Islamic law which is to safeguard child protection, against the authoritarian re-abduction and institutionalisation of the child by a foriegn family court. Pakistan is not ‘internationally obliged’ to faciliate the seperation of a child from it’s preferred parent (who may not be the same parent awarded custody in the foriegn country ), for the sake of the interests of the foreign family court “regaining capture” over the child’s future.

  • A foriegn family court should not be allowed to exert dominance over the child’s rights as a Pakistani citizen. By way of example, British family courts have often awarded wrongful Britain-based residence to the unworthy, abusive parent only to result in serious harm both emotional and physical to and/or the murder of the child without any measure of subsequent justice . Many vulnerable British mothers/couples have exiled themselves to Europe, because the family courts and social services have forcibly removed and or threatened to remove their children from them, only to ‘grant’ them to childless but wealthier person(s) in a bid to receive more funds into their social services. This would be abhorrent to Islamic and therefore Pakistani norms and in violation of a Pakistani child’s constitutional rights. British courts offer no recognition or repatriation to the child when wrongful judical decisions have resulted in grave harm to the child and violated their fundamental human rights.

  • Nor do British family courts give any consideration to the essential Islamic rights of a muslim child to be reared by the parent of good decent moral character, but rather to the parent who primarily controls the house where the child has first resided in , irrespective of whether that parent may be a pathological, deviant liar. By signing the Hague Convention Pakistan would be a signatory to the incompetence and sinister ,authoritarian intentions of certain foriegn family courts rather than be protecting the basic human rights of its own citizens. Unless the Hague Convention is revised to ensure that no child is returned to its birth country if it is NOT IN THE CHILD”S BEST INTERESTS AND ESPECIALLY IF THE CHILD REFUSES WITHOUT DURESS , Pakistan as a sovereign state should have no buisness in signing or ratifying this highly flawed convention. That is, if it wishes to retain any integrity and self-respect.

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