On the heels of the Panama Papers leak, Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif has flown to London for a routine “medical checkup”. The timing of this medical emergency is indeed suspicious since his three children, along with 200 other Pakistanis, mostly politicians, were on the list of the super rich who have hid their money. One of the revelations that came from the leaks is that the PM’s children own three residences in London’s Mayfair district, where the average price of an apartment is £1.8 million. Just one of these properties is worth more than 1,700 times the average national income of Rs1.53 lacs a year. Nawaz Sharif and family have, of course, claimed no wrong doing. Surprising few, leaders of an opposition party, along with a serving High Court judge, are also on the dubious list.
The Panama leaks couldn’t have come at a worse time; since the PM’s family was already under investigation by the National Accountability Bureau over corruption charges. Even more damning is the resurfacing of Hassan Nawaz’s BBC HardTalk interview in 1999, during which he claimed that his residence in Mayfair is rented — contrary to the family’s current stance. In the meantime, Nawaz Sharif is trying to put together his own judicial commission, headed by a retired judge, under the guise of a real investigation. There can be no reasonable expectation of a transparent investigation, accountability or justice under such circumstances. By all appearances, the PPP and the PML-N will cut a backroom deal and the corrupt charade of governance will go on as usual.
Jeff Sparrow wrote on the Panama Papers for The Guardian and referred to an interesting experiment conducted by Martin Seligman in the early 1970s. The experiment studied dogs separated into three groups, the dogs in group one received painful electric shocks which they could easily escape by a simple action. The second group received electric shocks as well, but there was no way for them to escape their pain. The dogs in the third group were not electrocuted. All three groups of dogs were then transferred into one space where they could escape the pain from electrocution by jumping over to the non-electrified side. The dogs from group one and three learnt quickly to jump over to the safe side every time the switch was flipped. The dogs from the unfortunate group two, however, didn’t move a muscle. They stood still and gave in to their suffering since they had learnt from the previous experiment that there was no hope.
As crude as the analogy may be, such blatant corruption without consequences to the guilty parties indicates that the electorate has been beaten into the same submissive state as group two. After years of suffering abuse and corruption at the hands of the government, have Pakistanis succumbed to their fate? Will they shrug and continue to suffer since this is the only form of democracy they have known in their lifetime? Public officials should be held to a higher standard and their extravagance at the expense of the people deserves close scrutiny. Without this element of accountability, Pakistan has become a place where corruption is an integral and openly accepted part of being a politician.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 18th, 2016.
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