Controlling the old guard

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Accountability is a priority

If ‘nature abhors a vacuum’, what explains the vacuum in the towering personality department today? Jinnah, Gandhi, Churchill, Mao, Ataturk – where are such people when we need them?

In today’s Pakistan, the scum has risen to the top while the bottom is at its murkiest. Imran Khan seems to be the most towering it gets which is rather worrying, his party consisting of the same feudals and government ministers he once criticised now regrouped on his end of the pitch.

Maybe he has little choice.

If Mr Khan is looking to ‘eliminate corruption and save the country,’ has he some sort of homeopathic remedy according to which syringes contaminated with the same disease are to be used to eliminate the corruption destroying this country?

Poverty, malfunctioning institutions, no justice or education, pathetic leadership – everyone knows these factors contribute to a corrupt society and we have them all. Since none of these are going anywhere fast, it is doubly important for Imran to concentrate on setting up an effective system of accountability. If a difference is to be made, performance must be stringently scrutinised at every level to prevent a repetition of old mistakes. Every incidence of nepotism, injustice and oppression must be punished more severely than it would normally warrant until some semblance of sanity prevails.

An old guard in power under another name will not wish to upset an applecart that has delivered the choicest apples directly into their hands all this while. Incentives that work for less corrupt societies: a promise of peace, general prosperity, a pride in personal performance, none of these are strong enough for people so steeped and experienced in corrupt practices. Strategies and incentives must be evolved to meet their expectations, at least to some extent. In what could be a controversial move, salaries of government officials such as members of the police could be raised to a higher level than they currently enjoy, strictly enforced and conditional upon better performance. This may appear to be an unreasonable goal for a poor country like Pakistan until you consider that the cost of corruption according to report in this newspaper last November is a whopping 2 billion dollars per year.

As part of the whole mechanism of accountability, a more efficient system of ombudsmen and consumer courts with teeth is required, men and women of education and standing who can investigate public complaints against the various state departments with a degree of neutrality.

Imran is viewed as being too close both to the military establishment and to the religious right wing parties. Although he has stated repeatedly that he is against any unconstitutional military moves in Pakistan, he has remained relatively silent about the religious right since the PTI’s upward swing last year.

While Pakistan’s problems with its militant religious right occupy world centre stage, its repeated lapses into military rule are of as much concern. An overly cosy relationship with the military will definitely undermine any attempts to “rid Pakistan of corruption, endemic poverty, and violence.”

According to Trust Law, a Thomson Reuters Foundation Service, there is a substantial link between military owned businesses and corruption.

It appears that the Armed Forces of Pakistan may be in control of almost 13 percent of the country’s land. This land made over to it for purposes related to defence (for the establishment of defence academies, training sites etc) is instead used for farms run on a commercial basis, and leased on a highly lucrative scale to civilians such as the Defence Housing schemes in various cities. The armed forces also hold major stakes in the country’s natural gas, and ‘runs its own Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) marketing and distribution company.’ It is sobering thought how lucrative a business this must be, given the country’s crippling power shortage these days where new gas connections for example are not available and citizens are being forced to rely increasingly on LPG cylinders.

‘By allowing militaries (whose sole purpose is to defend the country) such influence and authority, the civilian government essentially weakens its position and allows the armed forces to play a significant role in society.’ Trust Law holds these businesses responsible for creating an unfair commercial environment biased towards the military, for the exploitation and depletion for a country’s natural resources, and for actively working against any lessening of its (the military’s) advantages.

Imran has many well-wishers, and I am one of them. It is however not an easy task he has undertaken and he must not expect to run the country like a cute little cricket match. For a start, the umpires are not neutral and the boundaries are much too far away. And then the other team throws too many bouncers and the pitch is way too pitted.