Inevitable as it may have been, it is still a bad idea. With political controversy still swirling around the revelations in the Panama Papers, army chief Gen Raheel Sharif has contributed his — and, most likely, his institution’s — view on the issue of accountability.
While the army chief and his PR managers would never be so gauche as to speak officially and plainly about the Panama Papers themselves, there is little doubt what Gen Sharif had in mind when he was quoted as saying that “across-the-board accountability is necessary for the solidarity, integrity and prosperity of Pakistan”.
Making the connection even more explicit, Gen Sharif linked the army-led fight against terrorism, militancy and extremism to the need to fight corruption. Unhappily, thinly veiled political statements by the military leadership appear to have become the new normal.
If Gen Sharif spoke in easy-to-decipher code, it will perhaps have come as a relief to the political class, especially the PML-N government, that his message was one of concern rather than frustration or a stark warning.
Seven months from his retirement, the army chief appears determined to keep a relentless focus on what he has made his core mission: Zarb-i-Azb and the subsequent expansion of counter-terrorism operations across Pakistan.
Yet, perhaps the army leadership may want to consider the effect of its political forays.
Leading the fight against militancy has meant on occasion having to persuade political leaderships of the necessity and logic of certain anti-militancy actions. Is the military making that core task that much more difficult for itself by venturing into political issues?
Accountability per se is not a political issue, but then the national conversation at the moment is about the excesses of elected leaders. Perhaps a better way to interject itself into that conversation would have been for the military to start the so-called across-the-board accountability process itself.
Surely in offering the military to greater financial scrutiny, a positive example would be set that politicians would be under legitimate pressure to follow.
Yet, where the military errs, the political class inflicts damage on itself — and the wider cause of democracy.
The Panama Papers’ controversy has centred on two things: for the opposition, the ouster or hobbling of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his government; for the government, the need to tar as many others as possible with the same allegations about the use of offshore companies.
No one inside or outside parliament has thought to turn the conversation to structural change or reforms of the country’s creaking tax regime. Nor has there been any attempt to discuss how to make the business climate inside Pakistan more inviting, in a transparent but fair way, to discourage the need to stash money abroad.
On accountability itself, everyone, including politicians, agree that more of it must be done — but no politician seems interested in systemic solutions.
Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2016