Long used to taking their followers’ blind faith in them for granted, Pakistan’s traditional leaders had come to believe in their supposed infallibility.No matter how egregious or offensive their wrongdoing, the leaders could get away with it. The proverbial long arm of the law was too short when it came to catching up with them. The robber barons took it for gospel truth that they were above the law of the land. It was their territory and none could poach on it. No longer so, says Imran Khan’s “New Pakistan.” The law of the land has come back, with obvious vengeance, to reclaim its patch. It’s time to hold corrupt politicians accountable for their shenanigans perpetrated over the long years when they reigned in Pakistan.
A latest and robust proof of accountability of corrupt politicians came on Christmas Eve, when an Accountability court in Islamabad found Nawaz Sharif, the three-time PM already dishonoured by the apex court and disqualified from holding any elected office in Pakistan, is guilty of having assets beyond his income capacity and amassing fortunes for which he couldn’t come up with any credible evidence of wealth fairly generated.
That Nawaz was sentenced to serve a jail term on Christmas Eve is a coincidence hard to ignore. December 25 was Nawaz’s birthday. So, he will be celebrating this 70th birthday of his in his prison cell. Nawaz has been sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for seven years, after which he will be disqualified from taking part in active politics for ten years. He must also pay fines of 1.5 billion rupees, in Pakistani currency, and $25 million.
The Accountability court that has meted out this punishment to Nawaz—harsh, according to his partisans, but still too lenient for his detractors—is the legal arm of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) which was set up by the last military dictator, General Pervez Musharraf, soon after he’d risen to power after toppling Nawaz in 1999. It was mandated to go after corrupt politicians and bureaucrats, with a sharper focus on the former whose tales of corruption and theft of public funds were on everyone’s lips.
However, NAB went into virtual hibernation after Musharraf himself was eclipsed in 2008. What followed were ten years of ‘democratic’ rule by two of Pakistan’s most notorious robber barons, Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz. NAB wasn’t their cup of tea. They couldn’t afford to have any kind of accountability inconveniencing them or throwing spanners in their political works.
They corrupted NAB, too, by larding it with their hand-picked loyalists who would not bother them by being nosy and interfering in their loot and plunder of Pakistan.But the Panama Papers changed the atmosphere radically. The leaks against Nawaz and his children were in such abundance that despite his best efforts to play the innocent, he could not silence the national chorus for full accountability.
The Pakistan Supreme Court had ordered a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to go through the stinking Augean stables of corruption allegations against Nawaz and his extended family. Asif Ali Zardari, the slain Benazir Bhutto’s husband and president of Pakistan from 2008 to 2013, has also been under the lens of a Joint Investigation Team over fake bank accounts. Nawaz’s latest conviction is focused on Al-Azizia steel mills—established in Saudi Arabia in his years of exile there. But he could not provide any money trail to prove his contention that money for it came partly from his late father and partly from a Qatari prince. His father had died while Nawaz was still in exile and the Qatari royal did not appear before the JIT.
This sentence virtually snuffs out the last hope of any future in politics for Nawaz, his ambitious daughter Maryam—on bail in a seven-year sentence for corruption—and his two sons in London, who have now become proclaimed offenders under Pakistan’s law.But the accountability of corrupt politicians is not going to stop at Nawaz. The juggernaut now has its sights set on the other robber baron, Zardari.
Already, another JIT formed to probe his fabled loot and plunder has nabbed several of his cronies who were operating as frontmen in a banking scam which, according to many observers, is going to make the Panama Papers scandal look like child’s play. Soon after Nawaz was sentenced, the JIT on Zardari submitted its findings on his and his sister Faryal Talpur’s massive loot and plunder to the apex court. According to its findings Zardari and sister have been operating scores of fraudulent bank accounts. The amount involved runs into tens of billions of rupees. Land-grabbing scams are additional.
Zardari and sister are on pre-arrest bail until January 7. What may come next is anybody’s guess. The incoming year promises to be even more exciting. Imran may well win his battle against corruption.