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Politics of corruption.

Growing narrow nationalism is a clear indication of restlessness and sense of deprivation prevailing among smaller provinces. It needs immediate solution before it becomes too late.

There is no denying the fact that the existing system is cemented together through corruption and politics plays an important role in it. Rulers in Pakistan make false claims about eradication of corruption and changing the system. But their track record is quite contrary to that. No angel is needed to do so. An honest man with political will at the helm of affairs can do it. Simply root-out the corruption, the whole system will come to the ground automatically. At least three out of four elected governments were sent home since 1988, though under infamous Article 58(2)B but the major reason was the corruption. Without indulging in the debate of the credentials of the then Presidents whether they were pious or not, the fact remained that everyone looted the country according to his or her capability. As the saying goes when the roof starts leaking one can't keep the floor clean. The corruption when prevails at the highest level of the system its transmission to the lowest tier can not be stopped. And this is the dilemma of our system. Our politicians when in opposition make high claims of elimination of corruption, establishing a democratic governance, independence of judiciary and press, provision of relief to the common man and restoration of law and order in the country. But the moment they come in power they become part and parcel of the whole system and forget the pledges made to the nation. And there is no exception to it. Have a look on both sides of the political divide and try to find out a single Mr. Clean. Certainly it would be a disappointing exercise. Right from the Surrey to Raiwind Palace more or less it is the same lot.

It is dilemma as well that there is no tradition of rulers submitting themselves voluntarily to impartial and transparent accountability. Those in power make the rules of game in line with their own suiting in order to victimize the political opponents. Benazir even did not spare the aged Abaji so she is facing the music now. Independent political analysts always stressed upon the need of establishing an impartial Ehtesab Commission headed by an Apex court judge in order to make the accountability process transparent, fair and impartial.

The performance of the former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and her spouse and colleagues in both tenures is no secret. Corruption in every field was its hallmark. Nawaz Sharif now is in office for about 18 months. Is his performance different from the predecessor.... ? Has he fulfilled the commitments made to the downtrodden during election campaign or in party's manifesto or is there any sign of meeting such pledges in near future or in the days remaining in his tenure ... ? The answer perhaps, is quite obvious. The problems of the teeming masses in fact have further aggravated.

It has become difficult for them to meet both ends. Claims of independent judiciary and press are licking dust. Official electronic media that was assured to be made independent in the PML(N) manifesto has been more loyal to the king. Law and order situation has further worsened with sectarian and factional killings all around. Economy is in a shambles. Inflation and price-hike has sky rocketed. Rupee is continuously dipping against the dollar. The business-friendly community of the PM is on the rampage on various issues including GST. Investors' confidence was eroded by freezing FCAs. Agriculturists are scot-free despite assurances that meaningful agriculture tax would be imposed on them.

Moreover, Nawaz government is undergoing crisis of its own making. Ill-conceived and untimely decisions on Kalabagh Dam and CA- 15 have made more enemies than friends and diverted the attention from more important issues that were deemed to be addressed on priority. For instance better economic management, well-being of the downtrodden and visible improvement in the law and order situation, in short good governance should have been the goal of the government. Departure of allies like ANP and BNP and fears of doing so by MQM, resentment in PML(N) rank and file over CA-15 and Ejaz-ul Haq MNA who is also the Vice-President of PML(N) recent statement criticizing government policies seem failed to make the Prime Minister realize to wake-up to the situation. Ejaz without mincing words revealed that 50 per cent of PML(N) legislators and their family members are bank loan defaulters. He termed the bank recovery process as farce. Analysts believe that at least 70 per cent of the sitting legislators of both sides are loan defaulters. It is further unfortunate that when PML(N) tookover the charge 18 months back the bank default amount stood at Rs. 171 billion, now the loan swelled to Rs.208 billion. About 30 cases were registered against the defaulters but no progress has been made in this regard.

All is not well on foreign front. Federal Minister Abida Hussain while depicting gloomy scenario of our foreign relations conceded Iran is mad at us because of Afghanistan, India because of Kashmir and US is mad at detonation of N-tests". Some of government policies within home are not being subscribed even by its own party members and allies. It is further depressing for the government that the significant politico-religious parties not only rejected the official Shariat Bill, though it was aimed at pleasing them but their reaction was violent and severe.

Reports about financial irregularities and siphoning off money from Pakistan by the ruling elite has started appearing in the press and it is not an unusual phenomenon. But these stories when published in the foreign press provide further authentication to the belief of common people that their rulers are corrupt to the core. Official denials no matter how forceful they are fail to erase such perception from peoples mind. The ruling class in Pakistan make their fortunes by secretly siphoning off money to off-shore banks accounts and purchasing properties abroad. The present government managed to dig out some cases of receiving kick-backs and commission from foreign companies against tile Opposition Leader Benazir Bhutto and her spouse.

Now without going into the polemics of London-based newspaper, The Observer's story regarding the charges of corruption against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif or speculation thereof the martial government in the country, it has certainly stirred the political atmosphere to a greater extent and provided a golden opportunity to the Opposition to hit back. The Observer alleged that PM secretly siphoned off millions of pounds to off-shore banks accounts, involved in money laundering and purchased costly flats in London. The story is based on the report of former FIA's Additional Director General Rehman Malik, who had been underfire by Nawaz government. The Opposition while timely capitalizing on the issue has asked Prime Minister to immediately stepdown and clear his position before the joint committee of the parliament. The former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto who herself is accused of corruption and facing trials in Switzerland and Britain now is in the forefront to square her accounts with Sharifs. Heated discussion on Observer's story is likely in the next Senate session scheduled in the first week of October.

Nawaz government at present seems safe in the saddle and enjoys support of the institutions that matter. But the developments taking shape beneath the surface are alarming. Either the government is unaware of the ground realities or giving false impression of having complete control of the affairs. The country is at the brink of economic collapse. There is visible unrest among the masses because of ever increasing prices of commodities of daily use. There is a law and order breakdown in the country. Sectarian and factional killings in the country have become routine feature. Institutional melt-down has further aggravated the problems.

The recent wave of growing narrow nationalism is a clear indiction of restlessness and sense of deprivation prevailing among smaller provinces. It can not and should not be undermined by terming it a handful group having no significance. ANP and BNP are the parties of the alliance who have meaningful identification in provinces besides in National Assembly and Senate. Assembling of the nationalist forces on one platform and their unanimous demand of more provincial autonomy, suggesting a confederal system, is a significant political event.

Nationalist leaders from the three smaller provinces including Saraiki belt accused Punjab of their sheer exploitation on the basis of numerical strength. They blamed Punjab for governing the rest of the provinces as its colonies. They recalled that all top slots in the centre at present are occupied by persons belonging to Punjab. So the undercurrent of unity of these forces visibly signify the inherent danger that is posed to the federation and the persons sitting at the helm of affairs perhaps seems unconcerned. The situation demands serious pondering and solution without wasting any moment.
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Author:Raza, Moosi
Publication:Economic Review
Date:Sep 1, 1998
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