Anti-corruption hullaballoo

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How to tell good politics from bad?

 

Situation arising in the wake of Panama Papers leaks has got so muddied, confused and nasty that neither can one thing be separated from the other, nor can good be told from bad or right from wrong. It is increasingly becoming difficult to put all developments in their proper perspective. Yet, it also seems futile to dwell upon it any further as all the things related to it appear to have been discussed to saturation point.

But is it really so? Or, are the fast-occurring developments, instead of helping to resolve the problems, instead giving birth to new and more crucial questions? Can the issue of Panama Papers and the stir created by it be delinked with the omnipresent civil-military divide/relationship? Will it prove to be a blessing in disguise or yet another missed opportunity to correct some of the past wrongs? Or worse, it will inch us forward into the quagmire that has characterized the country’s politics in one form or another since its creation?

At the moment it seems the worst-case scenario. Let’s see how.

Though bad in itself, the ‘leakage’ afforded us a tiny opportunity to introduce something, maybe negligibly, positive to our politics. It was possible only if all the players and institutions – government, opposition political parties, and army – were on the same page regarding the greater good of the country. Alas, every one of them used it for its personal, political and institutional interests.

Starting from the government, it used deniability and delaying tactics from the very outset. But it was understandable if it did so because there were obviously skeletons in its cupboard which it feared could fall out if it acted otherwise. Politically speaking, it then was the responsibility of the opposition political parties to nudge it to the correct course. The basic ingredient for this was ‘unity’. But unfortunately this wasn’t to be; PTI wanted to put it into its already existing greater scheme of things, while the PPP, due to its own likely culpability factor and other pending political issues with the government, used it as a bargaining chip to squeeze something out of government on those issues; hence, its going easy on it.

Situation took anew turn and became more complicated when on April 19 the COAS decided to jump into the fray and add his bit to the anti-corruption debate that had started after the Panama Papers. On the face of it there is nothing wrong in that statement but what makes it odd is its timing and the direct connection that Gen Raheel wanted to draw between corruption and fight against terrorism. It is obvious that at the moment anybody uttering the word ‘corruption’ is wittingly or unwittingly first hurting the PM, his family and party and then, by default, the rest of the political class.

So the critics and independent analysts started calling into question the propriety of the statement of the COAS which was not only beyond his domain but which was also damaging to the democratically elected government of which he was not only a part but also a subservient officer – legally, technically – and which was engaged in a fight to control the damage caused to it by corruption charges. Maybe because of the criticism or as part of some predetermined policy, partial details started to be leaked on the following day about some not-so-fresh actions that were reportedly taken against some army officers on corruption charges.

It would have been a great news were it as well-intended as it initially appeared to be. The first negative string that was attached to it was again its timing and the larger context in which it was ‘leaked’. Timing is important not on that one count but also because it wasn’t something that happened that particular day. Secondly, that no details were leaked about the bad things they did or the process through which they were condemned – if indeed they were condemned. Third was the ‘punishment’ that was awarded to them; they were not court-martialed nor were they ‘dismissed’. It was only ‘forced retirement’, as the unconfirmed reports say. And fourth, the ‘news’ has not so far been officially announced – through ISPR, of course -though all the benefit are being reaped.

But the question is why all this is happening? Has the government done something wrong vis-à-vis the army that it invited such a damaging move from it? Well, apparently nothing of the sort has happened. But a probable answer can be found if we try to put it in context.

And the context is Panama Papers, Operation Iron – or Operation Steel, if you may call it – (Zarb-e-Aahan) in Punjab and the opposition parties’ pressure tactics which together have besieged the PML-N government. It’s now no secret that the military establishment and the government have locked horns on Punjab; the first want to enter and start a ‘cleaning’ operation there while the latter fears that it may be swept along if the former was allowed to enter and it started acting with a free hand. They know about the story of the camel that had entered the tent and the owner was soon out in the cold; the Iron brothers consider themselves Punjab’s sole owners. Simple. And they can see the consequences very clearly.

But the question that still agitates the mind is; was it necessary to do that keeping in mind that Nawaz Sharif has already surrendered most of the bigger matters to the army to decide? Some say, it was felt necessary because Nawaz Sharif was lately acting and building his image like a real prime minister taking credit for most of the good things happening around.

Maybe.

But one is tempted to attribute such an antagonistic move from the army to Nawaz Sharif’s visit to London and his ‘secret’ activities there – which may not be as ‘secret’ to some. The other is the establishment’s unending desire to remain the undisputed and unchallengeable ‘leader’ of the masses with the cleanest and most amicable public image.  And it goes without saying that this gives them immense power to call the shots despite the democratic façade that they have allowed to stand there between them and the people. This assumption is reinforced by the PM’s second address which he made on April 22 last.

This was a somewhat defiant Nawaz Sharif who seemed to be telling the army that he won’t go down without a fight. If an across-the-board accountability has to be initiated then not just ‘us’ (me, my family, the politicians – the civilians) alone have to be made accountable; there are others too (army generals, who have violated the law of the land) who must be made to answer for their acts of omission and commission. It seemed to be the not-so-subtle message that he wanted to convey.

But the question again is; can Nawaz Sharif – or the politicians, at large – put up a fight to the onslaught? Unfortunately, the answer is a big ‘NO’. The politicians’ are so divided among themselves and their image is so tarnished that they are perceived cheaters and scoundrels, and nothing more. They are bereft of any popular legitimacy. The problem is that this is not just the image that is tarnished; it is their actual lust for money that has resulted in their fall from grace. And this is to the extent that if they are in power today it is because they are allowed be there, that the present arrangement is most suited to the army and that the situation dictates so for the time being; it is not because the masses are behind them or that they will stand for them if thrown out of the power corridors.

But a word of caution; though the army is in a dominant and commanding position, it will be wise for it not to overstretch itself. Also there are limits to everything; to popularity and power too. It’s better to enjoy the good fortune and not do something which may appear overdoing and result in unintended negative consequences.

 

 

 

 

1 COMMENT

  1. yes politicians will not stop their fight but don't you think the other party has already overstretched itself ?

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