Pakistan, a gangsters’ haven

Pakistan, a gangsters’ haven

Ikram Sehgal,

Soon after the demise of the well-respected Begum Kulsoom Nawaz following prolonged hospitalisation in London, Nawaz Sharif was sentenced to 10 years in jail in July 2018 for corruption, his daughter Maryam was given seven years and her husband Safdar one year. Begum Kulsoom was spared the legal ordeal of seeing her entire immediate family being convicted by the courts one after the other. On December 24, the former PM was again jailed for seven years and fined $25 million and Rs 1.5 billion in the Azizia reference. His sons, Hassan and Hussain, were declared proclaimed offenders. Many more indictments against Nawaz Sharif for misusing his authority and government assets, while in office as PM, are in the offing.

Our wily politicians have perfected the art of fooling the people, staying in power by giving false hopes, defrauding, lying and cheating with impunity. Given the fact that he is the prime accused in the “Ashiana scam”, former Punjab chief minister (CM) Shahbaz Sharif, currently under judicial remand, being elected as chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is a constitutional disgrace. PAC is involved in public audits, invites ministers, permanent secretaries or other ministry officials for questioning. It then issues a report of findings subsequent to a government budget audit. Is there anything comparable anywhere in the world where a person prima facie guilty of corruption is asked to preside over a public sector enquiry into corruption? How did his close aides Fawad Hasan Fawad and Ahmad Cheema accumulate fabulous wealth on their bureaucrat’s salary? Can this man sit on judgement on himself and his comrades-in-crime while using constitutional sanctity?

Repeated bails before arrest granted by the Lahore High Court (LHC) notwithstanding, former railways minister Khawaja Saad Rafique was finally detained by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on December 11 along with his brother Salman Rafique for involvement in the Paragon Housing Scheme scandal. Speaking in the assembly on December 21 after Speaker Asad Qaiser issued his production orders, Saad Rafique used the “constitutional dispensation” to lambaste NAB, calling its law a “black law” used to victimise political opponents.

Seeing the noose tightening, he conveniently remembered “even the accountability during the PML-N govt was not transparent,” saying that the opposition and the government should stop fighting and instead focus on eradicating poverty, illiteracy and other challenges that were his “constitutional responsibilities”. He, however, forgot to add “thieving”. He has convenient amnesia about his vitriolic speeches, assiduously counting Asif Zardari’s corruption counts from 2012 to 2016. He now vociferously voiced support for the PPP co-chairperson with whom his political party PML(N) and PPP has mostly used language of the basest kind against each other’s leaders. After his sudden U-turn Saad Rafique warned that if Zardari was arrested “then mark my words, tensions will worsen in the country”.

Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur are currently under investigation, along with about 40 others in the benami accounts cases pertaining to alleged money laundering of more than Rs 4 billion. A joint investigation team (JIT) formed to probe this case submitted reams of evidence to the Supreme Court (SC) recently about the black money accumulated from kickbacks, commissions and bribes and the “transaction three” of how money was laundered. Crying foul for being falsely implicated in this case, Zardari and the PPP have not been able to refute the allegations clearly showing many transactions that Bilawal House expenses, travel and even dog food were being met from these accounts. Even a solid “Ayyan Ali” connection exists about expenses with the Bilawal House accounts. After having let the “poor waif” go abroad, the judicial authorities are now asking about her whereabouts. They should have learnt lessons from the Hussain Haqqani judicial exit facilitated by former CJ Iftikhar Chaudhry on his solemn view about Haqqani’s return. To the guilty such vows have no value, they are only means to an end to avoid serving jail terms.

An application seeking Zardari’s disqualification as an MP was filed on the ground that hiding assets is a violation of Article 62(1)(f) of the Constitution because his ownership of an apartment in New York was not declared to the Election Commission of Pakistan. The documents made public pertain to this property located at 524, East 72 Street, Apartment 37F, New York 10021, along with the latest property tax bills in the name of Asif Zardari. What earthly reason can anyone have for not truthfully declaring details as required under law unless there is something to hide? Seema Boesky, who wrote a column in 2008 detailing her meetings with Benazir Bhutto and Zardari, believed the “penthouse” apartment was jinxed, anyone buying it would die either before or after the purchase.

Not surprisingly, in all the cases against PPP and PML(N) leaders the common refrain is the “untouchable” Malik Riaz. The very dangerous, unholy nexus that emerges is the connection with the then senior military hierarchy led by Ashfaque Pervez Kayani. That is why two successive corrupt governments from 2008 got away with loot and murder.  While there are good chances of more political associates being found guilty and serving jail terms, should we condone the ‘khaki’ connection, particularly about one individual, which is an open-and-shut case? That would undercut the credibility of any conviction for corruption. Unfortunately, there are also black sheep in the PTI. Imran Khan may need them politically, but the fact remains that there are certified crooks around him. What purpose do they fulfil for him when they were liars 25 years ago and remain blatant liars today? To avoid the label of “selective accountability”, Imran Khan must get rid of them, starting with the “Johnny-come-latelies”, those “nouveau” loyalists who excel in serving every regime.

We should not have any illusions that the expensive, highly abusive and provocative campaign targetting NAB, the judiciary and the army in the electronic, print and social media is being sustained by corruption’s illegal money. Why do you think some in the media change sides so often? The rumours about Zardari’s impending arrest might have triggered his usual self-defence mechanism, especially when ambiguous and cryptic responses to journalists’ questions is the norm. The inflammatory tone of his recent public speeches will, he believes, serve to stir up public outrage and unrest should the inevitable happen. Recently, while addressing a public meeting, Zardari questioned how could someone “who has a service tenure of just three years” (meaning the COAS of the Pakistan army) reserve the right to make decisions for the nation. He said, “there have been 900,000 cases pending in courts, you should look into those. You have no future. How can you decide about the future of things?”

I suggest Zardari should take a look at the Army list. Things have changed drastically after Gen Raheel Sharif took over from Ashfaq Kayani in 2013, even if he were to last out Gen Bajwa, which in the face of evidence he is determined he will not, there will be others. Lt Gens, Maj Gens, Brigadiers, Cols, Lt Cols, Majors, Captains, Lieutenants and Second Lieutenants are all patiently waiting in line for their possible stint on merit for a three-year COAS tenure. You may rest assured that anyone in the foreseeable future, for the next 25 years at least, whoever takes the COAS’ chair in turn will see his men dying in Swat and FATA. They will focus on the likes Zardari so that this nation cannot be looted and defiled the way he and his relatives and friends have been doing.

One may rightly ask what is the substance of and where is the Constitution of Pakistan in the face of rampant corruption and money laundering, facilitated by any government? Many believe that we really have no Constitution. Which other constitution in the world will allow such crooks to not only survive but prosper using the power of the state? And which allows them to defame with impunity institutions like the armed forces? With no leg to stand on they shout and criticise Imran Khan, forgetting that while the PM had certainly led the campaign against corruption, he has nothing to do with the on-going investigations and the convictions being handed down. All investigations and punishments are the domain of NAB and the judiciary, both truly independent institutions.

The people of Sindh love Bilawal because of his mother and grandfather. They fear Zardari and hate him because of his threats and intimidation thereof. Once the people believe he no longer poses a personal threat to them and their families we will see his so-called support evaporate. With no love for the country, this cabal of crooks and hypocrites must be given due punishment. Anyone found lying, falsifying documents, swindling or stealing, particularly those holding public office, should be barred for life after following due process of law. Anyone else found benefitting from such people should also be prosecuted. Witnesses lying under oath are guilty of perjury and they must be locked up and the keys thrown away. It must also be remembered that anyone convicted of money-laundering stands to get his entire assets abroad confiscated. Western governments now have enacted laws which consider any asset in their country by those convicted of money-laundering as purchased from the money-laundering proceeds.

Besides, what about the “high apostle of constitutional probity”, Raza Rabbani? This man of conscience is consistently and conveniently deaf, dumb and blind to the corruption of Zardari and his dishonest cronies. The former Senate chairman’s sole purpose in life is to frequently and publicly malign the army. This sheer hypocrisy is meant to “cover up” the crimes of those guilty of violating the Constitution because of their corrupt practices. People like Rabbani are guilty of aiding, abetting and condoning the gross violation of the Constitution they pretend to protect. Governments which not only facilitate but aid and abet cover-up of corruption and criminality run afoul of any constitution in the world. Such governments have no legal status. When criminals function in the name of justice, justice becomes a crime. Corruption being anti-state is treason, aiding and abetting it in any form amounts to gross violation of the Constitution. A few months ago, I wrote an article labelling Pakistan as a ‘Gangsters’ Heaven’. Heaven and/or haven, Pakistan is presently both.

(The writer is a defence and security analyst)