Nawaz Sharif could not establish the source of the multi-million pound assets he had accumulated while being at the helm for over three decades. When the Panama papers revealed the names of the global tycoons and influential personalities, who had parked their assets at offshore companies, ideally to get away with the burden of taxation, Sharif appeared twice on the national TV to offer himself for accountability and scrutiny of his wealth. Little did he know that his words were being taken seriously, and that he may not be able to turn the hammer of accountability harmless either through institutional malpractice or personal intervention.
Nawaz Sharif’s removal from premiership, his subsequent dismissal from different party positions and now his incarceration, is termed by his party, the PML-N, an effort to shrink political space for the PML-N to accommodate the PTI. There could be some merit to this accusation, but does it absolve the Sharif family from the corruption charges that they had failed to defend in National Accountability Bureau?
In the larger picture, the troubling fact is not who has been singled out first; the unsettling part is that the political cadre of Pakistan has been shamelessly involved in corrupt practices as if it was their right. The words “politician” and “corruption” now appear together so often that they have taken the character of automatic association. For decades, our leaders have been manipulating laws and statutes to suit their convenience. Some wonder that while the political elites became elitist, the 80 per cent of the population had to toil even to get two square meals a day, leave alone having the luxury of getting basic education and healthcare facilities.
The latest in the list of those accused of financial malpractice are former President, Asif Ali Zardari, and his sister Faryal Talpur. They formed a group that had allegedly transferred Rs. 35 billion from Pakistan through 29 fake bank accounts. The chairperson of Pakistan Stock Exchange, who was also the head of Summit Bank, is already in custody for abetting the transfer of such a huge amount from Pakistan in collusion with the heads of UBL and Sindh Bank. As of late, Zardari has been unable to prove where he had earned all these billions, just like Nawaz Sharif had no transactional receipts to prove if the London property was purchased from legally earned money. Such omissions steadily crumble the economic edifice of the country. No wonder, we are faced with an exorbitant debt, which has climbed to 74 per cent of our GDP.
However, does a combination of public power abused for private ends and voters concerned only with immediate material rewards justify intervention by ‘other’ forces?
It has happened in Pakistan many a times and will keep happening unless the politicians give priority to national interests. Therefore, before intervention is questioned for the travesty of justice, the politicians have to clean their own house. Maryam Nawaz and Nawaz Sharif’s decision to return to Pakistan, to face their conviction and sentence, is a step in the right direction. It may well set the tone for future political behavior based on fair play and accountability.
To see an end to the politically motivated accountably process, the politicians will have to stop sacrificing democratic principles for an electoral victory that ultimately weakens the legitimacy and moral authority of the state. Unfortunately, our politicians have been squandering their sacrifices for petty personal interests – the PPP is the worst example of it. Let us hope the PML-N does not follow suit.
Moreover, call it misfortune or adventure of the developed world, even the mother of all democracies, Great Britain has turned a blind eye over billions invested in England by Pakistani politicians. Political asylums, while they are in exile, are extra brownies the absconding politicians are offered. Transparency International’s head of UK advocacy and research, Rachel Davies, said: “It is absolutely true that the UK is one of the leading financial centres for the laundering of corrupt money from overseas, whether through the property market, luxury goods or other sectors. The UK has been a prime location for stashing away illicitly gained wealth, as anti-money laundering systems are weak and sectors such as UK property represent a safe investment, as well as a place to hide corrupt money.”
Before the world becomes enlightened to true democracy – which is now being rethought in wake of US President Trump’s election – and unless our leaders are deservedly qualified to rule their people, grumbling over political interventions is of little value.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Lahore. (firstname.lastname@example.org)