NationalVolume 14 Issue # 13

Cyclic accountability

The arrest of Senior Punjab Minister and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) leader Aleem Khan has given a new twist to the accountability process but public hopes are fading about the efficacy of the process and recovery of looted wealth from high-profile politicians.

Critics say the arrest of the senior minister, who practically ran the affairs of the province even in the presence of the chief minister, aimed to “balance” the accountability process, which the opposition accused of targeting its members only. The arrest will make the drive look fairer, they say. He is considered to be a close aide to Prime Minister Imran Khan and it is said he was not nominated for the post of the Punjab chief minister because of corruption cases against him. The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has arrested him for amassing wealth and properties beyond his source of income. He had been appearing before NAB for two years in several inquiries, including an offshore company, Hexam Investment Overseas Ltd, owning assets beyond his known sources of income, and inquiries into Park View Housing Society, River Age Housing Society, and another housing scheme on the Multan Road.

His arrest could also be bad news for the Chaudhrys of Gujrat and their Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q) party, which is a coalition partner of the PTI government at the Centre and Punjab. In January 2018, NAB had sought the record and details of offshore companies reportedly established in tax havens abroad by Aleem Khan and PML-Q’s Moonis Elahi, son of Punjab Assembly Speaker Pervaiz Elahi after the NAB chairman ordered an inquiry into the companies held by 435 Pakistanis in tax havens abroad. A Mutual Legal Assistance report pertaining to Aleem Khan’s case was provided to NAB, Lahore, in January, following which the PTI leader was summoned. He was unable to satisfy NAB on the money trail for his assets and arrested.

However, people are skeptical about the outcome of the accountability campaign despite the arrest of the minister, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and possible arrest of former President Asif Ali Zardari in the fake accounts case. They think it is a futile effort and looted wealth cannot be extracted from them, as the system favours politicians. There are two systems in the country-for politicians and others. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was allowed every possible facility in jail. He was then shifted to hospital for the best possible treatment, which is not available to a majority of people of the country, who are out of jail. Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) President Shahbaz Sharif, who was arrested by NAB in October 2018, chairs the Public Accounts Committee meetings regularly and enjoys the status of a federal minister. He has hardly spent a week in NAB custody. His son, Hamza Sharif, has been allowed to proceed abroad despite facing several inquiries. These facilities are not available to people who are not politicians.

It appears there is an unseen understanding between the Sharifs and the forces-that-be, under which one facility after the other is being provided to them. It is not by chance that they are keeping quiet and not targeting national institutions. On the other hand, the government has also expressed concern over VIP treatment being extended to Nawaz Sharif at the hospital. It also denied reports it had offered any concessions to Nawaz who has now been lodged in a VIP room of a hospital away from the rigors of imprisonment. Federal Minister for Information Fawad Chaudry expressed his government’s utmost concern over the VIP treatment to Nawaz Sharif at the hospital. He also called upon the courts, NAB and other authorities to ensure that all prisoners, influential or ordinary, should be getting equal treatment. Dissociating the government from the relief, the minister said an “independent board of doctors” would decide how the authorities should proceed further.

However, PML-N leaders were not ready to accept it a “concession.” They claimed Nawaz Sharif never wished to be shifted to hospital as he wanted to go back to jail. Though both sides have rejected the possibility of any understanding, yet the recent developments have sparked rumours. A statement by senior PML-N leader Pervaiz Malik seeking Nawaz Sharif’s treatment abroad further added to the speculation. Lending credence to the rumours, Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid said Prime Minister Imran Khan must take the coalition partners into confidence if the government intended to strike any deal with the PML-N and PPP leaders. It is said the ground is being prepared to send Nawaz Sharif abroad for treatment. Analysts are also linking the mysterious silence of Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz with the present development. There are also reports the PTI government is quite upset over the new developments.

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader Chaudhry Manzoor has also claimed to have received a “confirmation” from PML-N insiders about National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO)-like relief for Nawaz Sharif. Talking to a news channel, he refused to name sources privy to the matter, but said he was 100pc sure about it. “Nawaz Sharif has always been lucky as a soft corner has been there most of the times in decisions in cases against him. He will fly out of the country in February,” he claimed.

If Nawaz Sharif is allowed to proceed abroad in the name of treatment, the credibility of the whole process of accountability will crash. It will not only malign the courts and graft-busting institutions, but also dash the hopes of the common man for fair accountability in the country. If relief is provided to the Sharifs, Asif Zardari and all other politicians who are facing corruption cases, will also expect similar facilities for themselves. People had pinned high hopes of recovery of looted wealth from top politicians, which was supposed to be enough to pay off Pakistan’s debt. However, concessions to the politicians have dashed their dreams. If politicians are allowed to escape punishment in the name of illness, then the facility should also be provided to other accused. It would be better if corruption cases against all politicians are dropped to save people’s time on false hopes. People had voted for the PTI on its slogan of accountability in the last election. In future elections, accountability will be irrelevant. Hello, again, corruption!