As the ominous political clouds seem all but intent to turn into a rumbling storm, Imran Khan is gearing up his party and heading out towards Islamabad which he has vowed to seal at the fag end of this month, and has also asked his coterie of blind followers to not allow the government to function; In effect, to stall everything until Nawaz Sharif gives up his powerful prime ministerial seat. Sound tactics. Anti-corruption is a populist stance for just about any political leader,(including the most corrupt ones) and yes, in principle, one needs a movement to end it, to bring our institutions into the web of accountability and hold them responsible for any failure in services that were promised by them to deliver to us. But is it something new to the politics here? In fact, this is a general question—whosoever has remained in power, the powerful mantra for all opponents against the sitting government is “corruption”. Yes, of course, we all know that. But is it a groundbreaking discovery for us?
A political history of the sub continent
We need to go back in history to prove the point that anti-corruption political stance is not something “revolutionary” at all. In fact, it has always been a part of a system. Where has it started? Since the beginning? No, exactly since when? Since the colonial days? But that is actually way before the British set foot in the subcontinent. Though our history here is long and tedious, compounded in the mirth of fables and facts, what can be realistically understood is by observing the Mughal dynasty. Is it wrong to assume there was no corruption in pre-East India Company sub-continent? Yes, it is. Mughal era, according to S.E. Finer, an academic on Mughal history who is also cited by a notable writer Irfan Hussein in is column for Dawn, has declared the rulers’ “golden” dynasty to be riddled with corruption. It has always been a business of granting favors and protection in the royal Darbar—and the loot money was appropriated by the most powerful.
Yes, like in all other golden dynasties where justice and prosperity lead to building a strong nation, corruption was a natural by-product. It is not justified, and should never be, but it was always there. If you want to decree a reason for the fall of great dynasties—it is inefficiency and nothing else that feeds the envy of the people fed up with economic injustices. The other reasons are political ploys and lobbying of the opponents to earn favors against the rulers in power—that too isn’t possible without making a convenient use of corruption. If it were corruption alone, Akbar’s dynasty would never have been a “golden” era for its erstwhile subjects in India. The British came, brought along bureaucracy, which naturally got amalgamated with the universal culture of granting and receiving favors. Though it is unwise to bring in this binary here, but it cannot be ignored if you are trying to theorize that all that is wrong there in a society is corruption. The sole responsibility laid on it by absolving negligence, insincerity with people and inefficiency, is not entirely just.
Corruption in the context of Islamic empires
Speaking of corruption being the sole cause of a fall of a dynasty, can these great modern Muslim leaders like Mr. Imran Khan explain why early Islam’s rule didn’t go beyond a mere 25 years since Islam’s inception? The reason here is politics. Remember, there was no corruption in early Islam’s history, if we all agree to it in our reverence and respect to early Islamic leaders i.e the loving friends and family of Hazrat Muhammad (Peace be upon him). Corruption of morality and finances first started to make their presence when the empire expanded from Syria to other places, under Umayyad Muslim rulers who continued doing so more brazenly for almost a century. Corruption riddled tales are also no stranger to the later golden Ottoman Empire.
Yes, like we have seen in case of Mawviya and his successors in the Umaayid dynasty and in other empires, to suggest that Nawaz Sharif is weak because of corruption is a wrong assumption. The corruption index of Pakistan has improved from last government’s tenure, as according to Transparency International. At the moment, Nawaz Sharif is politically stronger than he was in 2014. However, with the army here badly exposed by Almeida’s revealing story of the anomalies between the civil government and the security, that too in the crucial days prior to the retirement of the COAS who is expected to get an extension–to talk about toppling the government at this important juncture bears no surprise as to who is most likely to gain from it.
Rising tensions with India
With cross-border tussling on the rise with India and the Modi govt’s Clarian call to isolate us internationally, as we have already seen how SAARC conference had to be cancelled, while India continues to score points against our foreign relations as it has again spoken in BRICS Summit on terror sponsors in Pakistan, with Brazil, China, India and Russia as the summit’s members—it is a wise move on the part of Imran Khan to disturb the government at this critical time?
From the way things have been playing against us, we know that anti-Pakistan discourse is definitely not corruption—it is terrorism, a prime issue that is certainly not on Imran Khan’s plate for now. Definitely doesn’t seem so when one of the first things PTI did after coming into power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was to vigilantly stop NATO supplies to avenge the killing of Taliban terror Chief, Hakimullah Masood. It is not so when PTI’s Naeem ul Haq calls a terrorist, Mullah Mansoor Akhter a “martyr”, and definitely not so when the KPK government awards Rs. 300 million to Haqqania seminary known for extremist links—and that too at the cost of education expenditures for public schools.
The Panama scandal indeed needs to be investigated, the assets of Sharif’s family abroad should also be called for scrutiny and accountability, but this issue would not have been an Imran Khan’s desperate search for an excuse to topple Sharif’s government in a parliament that accepted his party’s third majority in the National Assembly and having been given people’s mandate in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where his party is ruling with Jamat i Islami– had there been no such leaks in the paper.
True, there is no need to excuse the Prime Minister for his party refusing to accept these ToRs, but PTI is not pointing out to the ruling party’s reservations over including Nawaz Sharif’s name in the TORs (Terms of reference) because including his name with reference of Panama scandal would actually mean that other people’s corruption gets absolved.
Has Imran Khan ever considered including Jahangir Tareen’s name in the ToRs for having loans worth Rupees one hundred and one million written off by the ZTBL? No. And has he ever had him further scrutinized and probed for his alleged corruption under Musharraf’s rule before he jumps into his private jets to attend public rallies? No, he has nothing to do with the Panama scandal. Did he ever consider Zardari’s corruption or the names of PPP leaders in the Panama scandal before he tried to appease the party leadership to join his “struggle” against corruption in vain?
In his hysterical critique against the status quo, when was the last time he held democratic intra party elections? In his talk about accountability, when has he ever released the public audit of the expenses of the grand rallies he holds in mega cities?
When he talks about morality—why does he retain his party’s seats in the parliament that he doesn’t want to respect? Why doesn’t he and his party members just resign and return all the privileges and funds they have been receiving from national exchequer that he claims is already “empty”?
He has got no answers. He probably doesn’t even know what he is dragging his people into. The public institutions he loves to criticize so scathingly are already open to scrutiny by the NAB—if there is a need for better mechanism of accountability and transparency, the best place for bringing laws pertaining to it is in the parliament, not on the streets. But if he is really concerned that NAB does not catch the real thieves and does not even dare touch them, then he needs to bring his revolution to Rawalpindi, not Islamabad.
Let’s wait and see what happens in Islamabad on the marked date. He said “ Whether I am a Ghazi or a shaheed in this revolution, victory will be ours”. Yes indeed, provided his DJ plays a powerful collection of songs by U2 and Bob Dylan for his chest-thumping frenzied shrieking “gentry”.