What are the two core issues that hurt the country and ordinary Pakistanis the most? Most likely, there will be an instant and overwhelming consensus that reining in terrorism and corruption remain the biggest challenges.
Other issues – for instance a weak economy, absence of quick and affordable justice, poor governance and misrule – stem from these two fundamental challenges. If a government aims to fix economy, the utmost important steps needed to achieve this goal would be provision of a secure and a corruption-free environment.
Similarly, ensuring justice, good governance and an efficient government also require – as a prerequisite – the rule of law and a proper system of checks and balances to prevent corruption and hold the corrupt accountable.
The future of Pakistan depends on how the military and civil leadership address these challenges. Any delay, lackluster approach or failure in tackling terrorism and corruption remain harmful for the future stability, security and unity of the country.
The credit must go to the military leadership that on both fronts it took the initiative and leads by an example.
Although Pakistan’s fight against terrorism and extremism is far from over, there have been major gains on this front. The ongoing Karachi operation and Zarb-e-Azb have been successful in containing this threat and putting terrorists, extremists and criminals on the back foot.
Pakistan’s military leadership took the initiative of taking the fight to the terrorists at a time when many civilian leaders were wavering either due to political expediency or the fear of a possible adverse fallout. However, they eventually extended support to the crackdown – first in Karachi where an operation was launched in 2013 and then for the Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan and other tribal areas in 2014.
Following the massacre at the Army Public School Peshawar, military and civil leaders agreed on the National Action Plan in January 2015 to counter the threat of extremism and terrorism in a holistic manner. But since then, implementation on NAP has been painfully slow. This damages prospects of a decisive victory in this war in mid-to long-term and the civilian leaders must focus on taking decisive actions to implement NAP in totality.
The challenge of corruption also needs immediate attention as it is weakening the state and the society from within just like termite. The authorities need to take-on corruption on a war-footing and in tandem with fight against terrorism and extremism as they feed one another.
Yes, corruption is deterring Pakistan’s progress and economic turnaround. It is stoking injustice and offsetting efforts to establish the rule of law. And it is hurting and biting the common man on a daily basis.
It is ironic that eradicating corruption – which makes the life of majority of Pakistanis miserable and denies them good and honest governance – is not on the agenda of many of our mainstream political parties, including those in power at the center and the provincial level.
Mostly lip-service is paid to this cause when some mega-corruption scandal hits the headlines, but seldom any such case gets to a closure. These scandals disappear from the media and slip out of the public mind without a whimper. This has happened countless times and the cycle keeps repeating itself.
Whenever there is a growing public pressure to hold someone accountable, the accused and his supporters start pointing fingers at others. As a result the main issue is lost in a barrage of allegations and counter-allegations and political bickering.
So far the successive governments have failed to establish an effective mechanism to hold the corrupt accountable in a fair, just and swift manner. The accountability process is usually driven by vendetta and marred with political pressures and interference. No wonder anti-corruption organizations, including the National Accountability Bureau and the Federal Investigation Agency have either become a handmaiden of rulers for the victimization of political rivals or unable to do the job because the corrupt enjoy patronage and support from powerful quarters, including various lobbies within the government.
If the prosecution system is weak, corrupt, inefficient, unprofessional and subject to political interference, the judicial system also remains flawed. Over-burdened courts are perpetually short of judges. The legal system itself is skewed in favour of the rich and the powerful. Executive authorities and interest groups manage to manipulate it to punish the innocent and provide relief to the guilty. Despite all these flaws – which are an open secret – judicial reforms are nowhere on the agenda.
Whenever there is a call for accountability, organized campaigns are launched by power players to tarnish the image of rivals, deflecting the pressure and diluting the issue. And in 99.9 percent cases, these attempts are successful. Like a villain of Shakespearean tragedy, the real villains of our society are seldom punished. The just exit from the stage amidst public uproar and manage to make a grand re-entry after a hibernation period.
In recent years, there has been a growing trend that when any past or serving government officials – whether elected or unelected – are being held accountable for corruption, various parties, interest groups, a section of the media start crying that it is only politicians who get targeted. They directly or indirectly try to imply that the personnel of the armed forces remain out of the ambit of accountability. And this they do, ignoring the fact that Pakistan Armed Forces have an internal mechanism of checks and balances and the military personnel, under the law, cannot be tried by the civilian courts.
World over, the accountability of soldiers and officers for violation of rules and regulations, any unbecoming behavior, or corruption is a serious affair with other security related implications and is being carried out within the institution.
However, lack of publicity does not mean that the process of accountability is taken lightly within the institution, which takes pride in its discipline and professionalism. But a particular lobby and their friendly media continue to tell half-truths and distort facts in an attempt to paint white as black. This propaganda campaign gained momentum in recent weeks in an organized manner both on the traditional and social media in the backdrop of some big corruption scandals that has hit the headlines.
Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif, however, again set the tone and direction on taking on this termite when he said that the war against terror cannot be won unless “the menace of corruption is uprooted.”
On a visit to the Signal Regimental Centre Kohat on April 19, he underlined the need of “across the board accountability”, calling it “necessary for the solidarity, integrity and prosperity of Pakistan.”
“Pakistan’s Armed Forces will fully support every meaningful effort in that direction which would ensure a better future for our next generations.”
Within days of the statement, the Army Chief dismissed several senior officers, including a lieutenant general from service on corruption charges. By making the accountability process within Armed Forces public, the military leadership not just set an example but gave a clear signal that they mean business.
Pakistanis overwhelmingly welcomed Army Chief’s statement and action against corrupt officials amidst expectations that it will put pressure on the civilian leaders to contribute their bit in this effort.
And as the action against the corrupt was taken regardless of the seniority in the Armed Forces, there are expectations that our elected representatives will also do the same.
It is a known fact that any meaningful effort against corruption must start from the top for maximum impact and result. If the authorities manage to set an example by holding the most powerful accountable, this message resonates at every level.
Many elected representatives – realizing the gravity of the situation – have been calling for the accountability of the corrupt. But this must not be done on a one-time basis or to target few individuals. Our institutions, including the Parliament, must work to create a sustainable, independent and just accountability process which remains autonomous and free from political pressures and manipulations. This should be the top item on the agenda because a system, which cannot auto-correct itself and purge the corrupt from its ranks, not just fails to deliver but likely to implode sooner or later.
It is in the enlightened self-interest of the people’s representatives to help establish a just, fair, independent and autonomous accountability mechanism. This is vital to sustain institutions, ensure betterment of the masses and to take the country forward. The sooner it is done, without any fear or favour, the better.
The writer is an eminent journalist who regularly contributes for print and electronic media.
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