Where Is The Real Accountability?

Where Is The Real Accountability?
Though the political situation of Pakistan will remain distressed and fragmented in the months to come, it appears quite plausible now that the coalition government of the Pakistan Democratic Alliance (PDM) will survive till the dissolution of the National Assembly, completing its 5-year term on August 12, 2023. However, the future of general elections is still not clear.

Former Prime Minister Imran Khan, after losing power as a result of a vote of no-confidence on April 10, 2022, vehemently started a campaign for holding general elections. For pressurizing the PDM government, he dissolved two provincial assemblies. When the government showed reluctance to hold elections within 90 days in Punjab, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) secured an order from Lahore High Court. During the pendency of intra-court proceedings against this order, the Supreme Court of Pakistan took suo muto action and ordered holding elections for Punjab Assembly on May 14, 2023. The government, calling it a controversial decision, refused to provide the funds and logistical support required for the polls.

The developments of the last few days have brought Imran Khan to a position where his kitchen cabinet members as well as the senior party leadership is leaving him. The party that was claiming a massive support base and was being portrayed as the winner of the next general elections is now fighting for its survival. It remains an unfortunate situation that political polarization continues to intensify, and the divide is further widened each day. During their time in power, Imran Khan and his party’s whole focus was on arm twisting their political opponents in the name of “accountability.” Several politicians, including former prime ministers, chief minister and ministers, were kept in jail for months and their bail applications were not even heard in time.

On the other hand, during the current regime, Imran Khan has constantly been evading the accountability process and even the judiciary and connected institutions allegedly have not shown any urgency, as they have been showing previously, to ensure his presence and the initiation of a legal process against him to seek answers in corruption charges leveled against him. In the post no-confidence ouster period, Imran Khan has been building different narratives.

Initially, Imran Khan accused the United States of America for meddling into the domestic political affairs of Pakistan. Later, he added the Pakistan military establishment in the list of the “accused,” alleging that they collaborated with the Americans and politicians to remove him from the office. Most recently, he shifted the blame solely on the former army chief.

Subsequently, during his various political appearances, Imran Khan started name calling military officials and this narrative was further echoed by his followers and even martyrs were not spared. After a helicopter crash which lead to the sad demise of six army officers, including Quetta Corps Commander Lt General Sarfraz, a hateful campaign was launched on social media. Voters and followers never questioned or substantiated the claims, rather they kept on blindly following the leader’s narrative. When Imran Khan was taken into custody by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), a widespread reaction was witnessed. The leaders and follower of PTI poured onto the roads for violent protests in various cities. They ransacked public properties, security installations and offices and residences of key military officials.

They even brazenly attacked the Corps Commander’s House in Lahore and burnt it down after robbing it and humiliated the sanctity of the uniform of the army. General Head Quarters Rawalpindi was also attacked. They vandalized the statue of national hero Colonel Sher Khan, the country’s proud martyr who was decorated with the Nishan-e-Haider, by completely wrecking it.

Though the arrest was made by the NAB and action was confirmed by Islamabad High Court, the anger and blame was shifted to the military establishment, based on the premise that they had carried out such activities in the past. While political parties in the past have also agitated against the military’s overreaches, everyone has been mature and sensible enough to keep the national interest above petty political benefits.

Political leaders are vested with a huge responsibility to keep the national interest above their political gains. They have to engage their followers in a peaceful manner. Our institutions and national heroes must not be targeted for political benefits. However, when one builds his narrative on hatred and constantly feed it to his followers with anger against all opponents, the expected outcome can be no different. This rhetoric has also been built against constitutional institutions like the Election Commission of Pakistan and lower courts, however high courts and the Supreme Court have been turning a blind eye towards this behavior.

The Supreme Court, with a backlog of thousands of pending cases, took up the matter within hours and declared Imran Khan’s arrest illegal. It went on directing the Registrar of the Islamabad High Court to place the matter through a writ petition before the Chief Justice of the Islamabad High Court for constituting a bench for hearing the same.

The Supreme Court, delivering injunctions which the government calls special favors, beyond any legal precedent, ordered that Imran Khan was to be kept at the Police Guest House and shall be entitled to meet up to 10 guests and these persons shall be allowed to stay with the petitioner as long as desired by him. The Court’s subjective and favorable actions towards a particular petitioner was unique in judicial history; in the process the highest judicial forum disregarded all legal principles, which further tainted its image.

The undue favors extended to Imran Khan by the judiciary since 2016 have brought him to a position where he has perhaps started believing that the favored treatment is his right, considering himself as untouchable and beyond the law. The May 9th, 2023, incident was the result of those undue favors and support extended by a few judges and high-ranking army officers to him; in fact, they are the real culprits. Unfortunately, a few judges are continuously abusing the powers of judicial discretion and in most cases, have interpreted the law in the way that it provided Khan unjustified favors. They even rewrote the Constitution to strengthen Khan’s base and to fulfill his wishes.  Resultantly, this behavior on the part of the judiciary not only tarnished democratic values in Pakistan, but also weakened institutions’ credibility, besides ruined the economy and country’s international image.

Transparency and accountability are the main elements to good governance, however, selective accountability has never brought any good to the country. Though politicians are being held accountable since 1947, undoubtedly Imran Khan is answerable too, but turning a blind eye on those who are the real culprits of the current crisis Pakistan finds itself in is not justified at all. The government should make accountable all the judges, and serving and retired army officers who are and were acting against their constitutional oaths and were named in various audio tapes.

While we are already facing a monumental economic crisis, the political situation is adding more fuel to the fire. The state is failing on its commitment towards its citizen vis-à-vis social protection. The people of Pakistan are fast losing hope in the system. Apparently, no one seems to be concerned and the people have been left at the mercy of inflation and unemployment. A country with political unrest cannot achieve stability and progress. Our political leaders and key stakeholders need to understand the gravity of the situation, and think beyond their personal agendas. They must confine themselves to the role and jurisdictions defined under the Constitution of Pakistan. The constant overreach and meddling into affairs of each other’s domain have rendered the overall governance system ineffective.

The author is a corporate lawyer based in the USA and an expert in international public law, labor law, white collar crimes and sanctions compliance.