The fall of Richard Nixon at the hands of Watergate investigation constituted a major political crisis for the US. In the long run, it is said that more damage was caused by Gerald Ford’s pardon to Nixon than the scandal itself. What the pardon did at that time was send a clear signal that the political elites were not to be held accountable for their crimes. Seymour M Hersh in his article “The Pardon: Nixon, Ford, Haig and transfer of power” written for the August 1983 issue of US magazine The Atlantic writes that in the shadow of this pardon “a culture of elite malfeasance was exploited by those at the top and resented by those at the bottom … and the well-to-do countrymen continued to fail upwards.”
The Iran-Contra scandal, Clinton’s impeachment, the conduct of Iraq war on false intelligence and the handling of Palestinian issue with the murder of two-state solution are some of the major American political scandals and blunders that in the ‘elite malfeasance proliferated culture’ were sustained and remain unpunished.
Simon Reid Henry, in his book Empire of Democracy: The remaking of the West since the Cold War published in 2019, goes further by saying that as a consequence of this elite malfeasance culture, a ‘militarized democracy’ came in America and Gulf War restored ‘militarism’ in the heart of American national identity. The proof of that is the death of thousands of innocent people in places where the US initiated its preventive wars and the consequent civil wars that continue to take innocent lives and shaking the faith of the entire world in the one value that the US was expected to stand up for — justice.
Crisis actually pressurises us for a change. At the national level if those handling it have their freedom of choice constrained and buckle under some kind of pressure then as the American example shows such leadership leaves in the poor aftermath of handling of such crisis a culture that lives on for a longer period with very negative consequences for the entire nation — and in case of the US, for the world.
The English word crisis is actually from the Greek noun ‘krisis’ which means ‘to separate’, to ‘draw a distinction’ and ‘turning point’. In essence one can think of it as a moment of truth and my whole emphasis on this word in today’s piece is courtesy the sharing of the FIA-led sugar crisis inquiry commission’s forensic report by the federal government. Sugar mills owners in Pakistan are the conductors of real politics — a sugar-coated politics that will, courtesy this report, now turn very sour. In a neglected country (politicians more busy piling up their personal fortunes) that has been waiting to be rebuilt for a very long time, this is no mean achievement by a government that has consistently been encountering problems after problems — one eclipsed by another.
Malfeasance is actually a term that signifies wrongdoing or a misconduct by a public official and these wrongdoings and misconducts were not only tolerated by the past governments but in most cases given endorsements as well as enabled with political patronage. Today, to the good or bad luck of Prime Minister Imran Khan, the Pakistani nation in the words of Swedish Prime Minister Tage Erlander is experiencing ‘the discontent of rising expectations’. The dominant mood of the general public is of unease and the PM will do well to sense it. This unease will not go away but in coming days those powerful sugar political barons who have been put under the accountability knife’s edge and whose lifetime political certainties have been shaken to the roots will utilise all the ‘hard sugar-earned money’ to maximise propaganda campaign against the Imran Khan-led government. On this slippery accountability slope both the sugar political barons and the government will be fighting a battle for their political survival.
Regardless of the oppositions propaganda, the public needs to decide whom do they support? Those that intertwined corruption and politics in the past and laid claims to the corridors of power with their ill-gotten money or those that challenge them? Never before was power and morality woven together like the way it is today and in how Imran Khan showcases it. But it is not just power and morality that will drag Imran Khan’s government forward. In the coming days the unharmful ‘soft winds’ of the accountability drive must be replaced by a tornado — a meaningful and result-oriented visible anti-corruption storm must rage in the country in a political do-or-die situation that must demonstrate to the public that the government does not want to use the process of accountability as a bargaining chip but wants to act decisively.
Imran Khan the reformer and not Imran Khan the responder, pro-active and not reactive. What will make his reforms stick is not ‘lecturing on the morality’ but a single-minded anti-corruption approach that lays silent all rumors of existence of any two-faced political duality. The political basket must shed the rotten apples not only to stop others from rotting but also to appease the public desire to ‘shake up things’. The opposition will keep coming back with the slogans of melting down of economy, democratic disappointment and no achievement on the anti-corruption chart in two years. Regular political taunts of how many students are back in the schools and how many jobless are back on jobs will continue too. But Imran Khan doesn’t have to stop.
Imran Khan’s political boat will continue to be rocked by many small crises and along the way he will have to devise new coping methods to deal with them because the old ones have been corrupted and would prove inappropriate and inadequate to resolve them. Crises are limited and resolved because nations have leaders — not the usual leaders who are the proliferators of a patrimonial state but the unusual leaders, the creators of impersonal states who have the power to galvanise an entire nation.
To the critics and detractors of Imran Khan — many of whom are not actually from the poor or lower middle class bracket but the well to do, the non-tax paying, the likes of sugar barons, the earners of windfall profiteers — I have just one thing to say. Unusual leaders change the course of history and if such leaders were not there, history’s outcome for many nations like Pakistan would remain similar and never change.
The many pillars on which huge empires were built came down. The Berlin Wall came down. Therefore the ‘wall of corruption’ that separates the majority of poor and deserving people in this country from the few rich and elite will also come down. It reminds me that one such real wall which is the symbolic representation of misuse of power and authority is the one that is built in front of Bilawal House, Clifton Karachi.
Any state has the right to determine its own future. If it is anti- corruption future then there can’t be two futures within one future. There is a crisis of good governance in Sindh and as much as a failing state or a failed state represents a danger to the world order, a failing province represents a similar danger to a state. Along with other crisis this also needs Imran Khan’s government’s immediate attention. Avoidance, forgiveness and pardon is never the right way to handle a political crisis.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 24th, 2020.
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