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For now, focus on the positive

April 23, 2016


The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

THE fewer facts there are in the public domain the more people rely on speculation, even gossip; this not different for the matter concerning the removal from service of several officers whether for corruption or failure of command.

The Twitter-active DG ISPR, Lt-Gen Asim Bajwa, is uncharacteristically quiet on the issue. Consequently, various media outlets and journalists, some of whom evidently leaked the news, have given different numbers of the officers sanctioned and differing accounts of the imposed penalties.

Eventually more information will trickle out and a complete picture will emerge as to what happened beyond the leak whose primary purpose appeared to be to demonstrate that while there may be corruption in the army too it is being dealt with firmly.

The primary purpose of the leak appeared to be to demonstrate that while there may be corruption in the army it is being dealt with firmly.

The message is generally for the whole country and more specifically for the civilian politicians some of whom have been accused of making huge amounts of money thanks to the offices they have held. Interestingly, the ISPR’s silence on the issue leaves unanswered questions such as exactly when the army officers were subjected to a court of inquiry and exactly when they were penalised.

What is clear is that the timing of the leak coincided with delays by the government in moving to order some sort of a credible inquiry into the Panama Papers’ information which named three of the prime minister’s children as beneficiaries of offshore companies with a portfolio of properties in London and raised legitimate questions about the source of such wealth.

While the Panama Papers’ controversy appeared to shake the government, the prime minister fell ill and took off for London for treatment. Then, in the words of his brother Shahbaz Sharif, started to “feel better after a check-up”. Does that mean miraculously without any medical/surgical intervention?

Anyway, the prime minister returned home to take charge and there were suggestions towards the weekend that, after long cabinet deliberations where the Panama Papers’ leak was attributed to an international conspiracy, it was agreed to approach the chief justice for the formation of a judicial commission of inquiry.

That the Panama Papers, leaked after the database of law firm Mossack Fonseca was hacked, were seen as a conspiracy rather than an opportunity to reflect on the murky past via a transparent probe and to evolve a mechanism to ensure no repeat in the future was a sad comment on the thinking of those at the helm.

The Panama Papers also mentioned a serving and a retired high court judge as beneficiaries of offshore accounts. This fact, coupled with the army action against some of its ‘corrupt’ officers and the information the Papers released regarding some of our leading politicians/parliamentarians and the business and industrial elite painted a picture of a sad, rotten-to-the-core republic.

Yes, a republic where no national institution was immune from having in its ranks people who felt little compunction about dipping their hand in the till at the first opportunity. This, of course, leads one to believe that given the scale of decay in society perhaps only getting caught is the crime.

There is no institutional mechanism to tackle corruption. Look at what Dawn reported about the apparent collusion of one of the most powerful real estate developers in the country Bahria Town with Sindh government officials to deliver ‘development’ to Sindh via an officially sanctioned land grab .

That the Sindh government neither denied the investigative report nor ordered an inquiry into it is symptomatic of the deep-rooted malaise where enriching the few at the cost of the multitudes is acceptable and not out of the ordinary.

There is nobody in the country who could have taken notice and started a process to ascertain the veracity of the charges. Obviously, when the first and most elementary step has not been taken, how would the perpetrators be punished and the wronged compensated?

Against this outrage one was amused at the naïvete or, as some would argue, hypocrisy of the ‘newly empowered’ leader of the PPP who issued a public letter seeking answers to some questions about how to revive the party.

He needs to read the lips of those who say ‘corruption, corruption, corruption’. Corruption is at the centre of all of the PPP’s woes. It is that simple. Ideologically committed workers and leaders have either been totally alienated or reduced to marking time as each knows the consequence of raising their voice at the plunder of a powerful coterie.

But the business of offering constructive, truthful criticism is a perilous one these days when, like my good friend and former colleague Zarrar Khuhro says, any questioning of the politicians is seen as an attack against democracy and any critical look at the defence establishment is labelled treason.

Know what? Some of us like to live dangerously. When I read the Bahria Town exposé, believe me, my sense of pride at what former colleagues Naziha Syed Ali and Fahim Zaman Khan had so painstakingly documented was beyond words.

Whether anyone cares or not; whether the plunder continues unchecked someone, somewhere documented the truth for the generations to come; for posterity. It is a worthy enough cause as any and is truly wonderful.

And that we can still ask questions such as the one that sprung to my mind when I heard of the army chief’s bold decision to sanction some of his colleagues all of whom had one common denominator: Frontier Corps, Balochistan.

Isn’t it ironic that all the officers sanctioned for offences ranging from corruption to failure of command served in the province during a turbulent period where they sat in judgement on people’s patriotism? And nightmarish if such calls resulted in life and death decisions.

But, for now, we will only focus on the positive.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

Published in Dawn, April 23rd, 2016