Accountability clichés -DAWN

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CLICHÉS and journalists go together like cream cheese and bagels. It truly is hard to separate the two. And at home in Pakistan, we journalists have our fair share of the oft-used and abused ones especially where politics is concerned. ‘Pakistan at the crossroads’ was a most favoured one for many years as is the latest flavour of the month — the ‘one-page’ mantra or ‘cacophony’ (whichever is preferable). But our clichés are not just the most obvious ones. There are others too, which are noticed only after a longish association with the profession.

One such has been to draw a parallel with Oscar Wilde’s famous novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, when writing about the growing idiocies of our rulers.

It was a cliché or parallel which initially seemed rather impressive and deep but over time, I wondered why we needed a parallel with a protagonist whose deal with the devil leads to him staying young and unblemished while the ravages of his hedonistic life are inflicted upon a hidden portrait. For our rulers have never bothered to present an innocent visage to the world and hide the impact of their deeds and misdeeds; their ravages are on full display as are their policies. There is no portrait hidden anywhere, and neither does the appearance in public remain untouched.

And in this, all of the leaders have travelled the same path and none of them has really taken the one less travelled. The transformation took place, in front of the people, in rather similar ways.

Within the larger context, the PTI’s decision to continue with the current NAB chairman makes sense.

Why else would the latest decisions by the government over NAB be so reminiscent of what Imran Khan’s predecessors have done? For weeks now there had been conjecture or gossip about the prime minister wanting to retain the current chairman of NAB despite the latter’s term ending. That the law doesn’t allow an incumbent to serve more than one term didn’t deter him. Those around the prime minister are there to find ways and they did.

Hence, as ‘consultations’ will continue with the opposition to choose a new man, the government will retain the incumbent in the meantime. And keeping the relationship between the opposition and government in mind, who is willing to place much hope on a consensus any time soon?

And no one expresses any scepticism that the prime minister doesn’t want to retain the NAB chairman because under the latter, the opposition has barely been able to catch its breath between investigations, cases and arrests while those in government have had an easier time in comparison. And this state of affairs suits the prime minister and he wants it to continue. In the past, his predecessors sought to control the institution and shape the form the ‘accountability’ took.

During Pervez Musharraf, if the bureau worked aggressively in the aftermath of the 1999 coup, it was allowed to do so for a very short time. Within a year, its first fauji-turned-head, Amjad Hussain had left, reportedly because of interference. After that, whoever came in did so with the understanding that the job was a comfy one but with little adventure. The fourth military man who was appointed to the post, Shahid Aziz, stated publicly, after his removal in 2007, that he was pushed to close cases against politicians.

Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif proved no different in this regard. Consensus-building over who was to head these institutions was preferred to institution-building or reform through legislation. But even this unambitious consensus proved elusive.

Hence, when the PPP opted for Deedar Shah, a PPP loyalist, PML-N’s Nisar Ali Khan, then opposition leader, refused to agree to the choice and even took the matter to court. Come to think of it, the PML-N didn’t even agree to the PPP’s second choice, Fasih Bokhari, who during his time tried to recast the NAB role as one of preventing corruption, instead of prosecuting it.

The PML-N’s decision-making was similarly focused on suitable individuals. Their choice — Qamar Zaman Chaudhry — proved no less controversial than the PPP’s and came into the limelight for all the wrong reasons, more than once. During the Panama case, he was hauled up before the Supreme Court and refused to reopen the Hudaibiya case, a decision which seemed to irk the bench. It was rumoured that the chairman’s decision was influenced by those in power.

Within this larger context, the PTI’s decision to continue with the current NAB chairman makes perfect sense. He suits the government the way Qamar Zaman or Deedar Shah suited the PML-N or the PPP. And this is enough to make the prime minister forget all his earlier promises about strengthening institutions; he too now clings on to individuals who make his life (and rule) easier. And neither does he think this is a ‘blemish’ he needs to hide from the people for the decisions are made and pushed publicly. (Last week, we witnessed another attempt to hang on to an individual at the expense of the institution.)

But one can safely assume that somewhere down the line, Zardari and Nawaz Sharif both realised the futility of such exercises. As they sought to control NAB through ‘their men’, accountability of the targeted kind reared its head in the most unexpected manner. Sometimes courts came into play and sometimes the FIA or the ANF. And in the case of Dr Asim Hussain, the Rangers picked him up as evidence was found of (among other things) of MQM militants having been treated at his hospital. NAB was rarely active under Khan’s predecessors but this certainly did not mean the ‘long arm’ of accountability did not reach those who had to be ‘nabbed’.

And this is the only cliché true of Pakistani politics. Politics determines corrupt practices and those who are to be held accountable cannot escape. And when such decisions are taken, the little men heading institutions can try and prove their loyalty but without much impact. They are not able to save their benefactors eventually. But no one was willing to understand this in the past and neither does Imran Khan now.

The writer is a journalist.