The box titled evidence was ominous. The material in it turned out to be almost omnipotent. The Joint Investigation Team’s (JIT) report, no matter how much it can be discounted by various factions, is backed by attested documents by credible international institutions. These documents will be further examined by the Supreme Court and a decision will be made. However, the process itself is history in the making. It has taken seven decades for Pakistan to present a detailed account of a sitting ruler and family’s use and abuse of their office for personal gain. The report may not be a perfect document and will be taken apart by the ruling regime’s counsel in court, but the fact that factual evidence is being presented against one of the most powerful families in Pakistan is itself a process which will strengthen democracy and citizen awareness.
Politics is sometimes weird and sometimes ridiculous in its content and extent, and political parties have almost unlimited licence to use these limits. However, hardly anything can match this argument by the ruling government that investigating huge discrepancies in assets and lifestyle of the ruling party is a coup on democracy and will derail the democratic process. Their argument that democracy is about winning the election and only voter majority will decide whether they are answerable, is reflective of a dictatorial mindset. We need to educate our citizens on democratic principles and what true democracy is.
There are 13 basic principles that make up democracy. These include citizen participation, equality, political tolerance, accountability, regular free and fair elections, control of abuse of power, economic freedom, bill of rights, accepting of election results, human rights, multiparty system, rule of law and transparency. As is evident from these principles, governments are elected through free and fair elections and then transparently are held accountable for using public offices for public good.
The main argument given by the PML-N and some analysts is that once elected, the government can only be held accountable by the number of votes in the next election and thus, cannot be removed. But to the contrary are the principles of democracy. That is more of a dictatorial approach where once in power, rule of law doesn’t apply to the ruler. In democracy, it is the opposite. Once elected, they have to maintain a higher bar of transparency and any taint on their public conduct can lead to their accountability and if proven true may result in his or her removal. Prime examples of this are Italy where in the last six years five governments have changed and Australia where in the last five year five governments have changed. Japan and the UK are other examples. None of these countries have claimed that democracy has been derailed and economy destroyed.
The report has created uproar. The ruling party says this is an unprecedented composition focusing on targeting their party. Being in the highest office it had to start with them. Agreed, it is unprecedented. Agreed, all attempts on accountability failed in the past. But that was because of political compromises in the form of NROs and mutual non-accountability agreements. Regardless of the formation, the content of the report contains some irrefutable evidence. The letter by the British Virgin Islands confirming Maryam Nawaz as the beneficial owner of Neilson and Nescoll and the UAE government’s letters, one denying existence of the $12 million of Gulf Steel and the other showing aqama of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as an employee receiving salary till 2015 are all certified proofs. Denial would only feed the absurd conspiracy that the relevant governments issuing these documents are part of a world-wide conspiracy against the Sharif family.
Non-democratic mindsets defy the rule of law and accountability. Such a mindset refuses to accept that any institution or individual can dare to question their rule. Take for example the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP). The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) found SECP chairman Zafar Hijazi guilty of tampering Sharif family records. The Supreme Court ordered an FIR and action against him. In total defiance to the FIA report and the Supreme Court orders, Mr Hijazi resumed office and has started making policy decisions in an attempt to appease his subordinates and make his removal difficult. This is flagrant and blatant disregard of the rule of law but he is doing it at the behest of the ruling party.
Another accusation on JIT is that it is miraculous how so much evidence and work could be done in a short period of 60 days. On the contrary, this performance should be a norm in a progressive competitive environment. It is because public institutions have been destroyed by political appointments and abuse of power that they have become white elephants that fail to deliver effectively. If anything, the JIT report is a proof of the potential that exists in our public office holders and public institutions given the empowerment and authority to exercise their abilities and talent.
It is not a clash of ideologies, policies or processes but a clash of egos. Those in powerful offices believe their position gives them immunity against accountability and rule of law. This process of accountability may be the end of one ruling family but real transformation can only occur if it is followed up by the beginning of accountability of all politicians, public office holders, government and state officers, regardless of party, rank, position and institution.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 16th, 2017.