OUR state’s poor ability to investigate and then prosecute is evident in the current accountability drive. That the process required ‘external influence’ despite the weight of evidence collected against our premier politicians is a testament to its failings.
In any effective legal system, this manner of conducting an accountability drive would have been entirely unnecessary. Such a process of law, in part due to the influence of external factors/elements on the carriage of justice, becomes a farcical exercise especially when we consider the simplicity of the allegations themselves.
The allegations pertain to: a font which didn’t exist when a trust deed was penned; an Arab who bought shares from the Sharif family before gifting them back to them while, at the same time, becoming a state approver of similar allegations of laundering by Asif Zardari; a dead man paying Customs duty on a car Zardari then declared in his own assets; a model, making her 81st trip abroad on a ticket paid for by the Omni Group, being caught at the airport with half a million dollars in cash and being escorted by a former member of Zardari’s staff; Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari’s diet plans being paid for from ghost accounts; Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah approving provincial subsidies to the Omni Group even before the practice became fashionable.
Yet it came down to unwithdrawn receivables in Nawaz Sharif’s case, and a never-ending game of carrot and stick for Zardari. Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Murad Ali Shah seem immune.
It is argued then that the entire push for civilian supremacy, the entire show of the opposition’s force, is simply to protect personal interests which are threatened with vengeance disguised as accountability. Sharif seeks to secure a legacy and a future for his daughter, and has shown that he is ready to trade his claims of democratic principles for this goal, as we saw earlier when the PML-N assented to the Army Act amendment.
Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari is the perfect back-up plan, should the captain continue to flounder. After all, the most his party has been able to attain legitimately and all that it currently seeks to retain is the Sindh government. Whilst calling the prime minister a puppet, the system a farce and the government a concoction, the PPP made clear that it will loudly call for PTI resignations with no intent of offering its own, regardless of one resignation being the most likely trigger of the other. He looks good, speaks well, doesn’t have any constituency in Punjab and comes with just the right amount of compromise.
The JUI-F’s Fazlur Rahman is completely outside power for the first time in two decades, with not even the Kashmir committee to pick up his tabs or find him a state residence.
It is argued then that the desire for democracy and civilian supremacy is a mere charade, that these people are simply after personal protection and power.
Does it matter?
Firstly, in a democracy where a few hundred government servants clutch the purse strings of the state with such force that to question their accumulation of assets is labelled treasonous, you take the democrats you can get.
Secondly, in a country where on the day the fake accounts-related Omni Group offices were raided in order to seize financial records, the Sindh Rangers also raided a private bank by accident because it offered a cash transfer product by the name of ‘Omni’; it is in everyone’s interest for the investigating arm of the state to retreat from its current dominance.
In one of the episodes of his hugely popular podcast ‘revisionist history’, Malcolm Gladwell analysed the Boston Tea Party, the sacking of ships in December 1773 which sparked the American War of Independence. Over the course of the 1760s, the British had imposed a series of new taxes on the colonies they held in order to fund an increasingly strained war chest. The American subjects protested this new wave of taxation by boycotting British goods. In Boston, a boycott of British tea, a major official import then, was announced.
A historian combed through decades of insurance records for the ships which were carrying cargo to America. He noted that a lot of the cargo coming into the Boston harbour had not been routed through British ports, and had not come on British ships, both of which were legal requirements then. They would instead travel through other ports and locations. Once it arrived in Boston, the Customs declarations of the vessel’s cargo would be at odds with what was its insured value and contents according to the private insurance records. The premiums paid were much higher than what the declared cargo would warrant.
The merchants of Boston were smuggling tea into the country and the boycott allowed for them to reap windfall profits.
The British reacted to the boycott by legislating in 1773 to reduce the price of their official tea export to a point where it rivalled the price of smuggled tea. The smuggling merchants countered by dressing up as Native Americans, ransacking British ships and throwing the tea overboard.
In America, these merchants are also referred to as the founding fathers. John Hancock, along with other now hallowed names was among the tea smugglers who saw a tremendous opportunity of profit in the boycott of British products.
The Boston Tea Party, an act of rebellion as it was, was also a way to protect criminal and corrupt interest.
But it got the job done.
And where the ailing Nawaz Sharif is concerned, for all his self-interest and throwing caution to the wind when there was nothing to be had even through the old friend who went for two meetings, you have the initial spark. It does not matter how we got here.
The Senate elections are coming. We all know what happened last time, how the PPP suddenly decided Nawaz Sharif was the real enemy. The only thing that needs to be ensured this time is that after everyone dons the costumes and heads for the harbour, no one cuts a deal with the colonisers. It may yet again not end with burning ships. He might be too conservative for a costume, but the harbourmaster must dread Nawaz Sharif and his tales of tomahawks.
The writer is a lawyer.
Published in Dawn, October 6th, 2020