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Amidst the hectic to and fro of nominations for the upcoming Senate elections, the video scandal showing some Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) Members of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly receiving wads of cash for their votes in the 2018 Senate elections has dented, if not destroyed, the high moral ground from which Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan and his party launched their (continuing) anti-corruption mantra. In response to the growing scandal, the PM has set up a three-member ministerial committee to probe the affair. The ‘honest’ PM does not seem to see the contradiction in his government being a judge in its own cause. The committee lacks credibility, composed as it is of Federal Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry, Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari and Adviser to the PM on Accountability and Interior Shahzad Akbar. If anything, sceptics and critics are inclined to view this committee and its intended ‘probe’ as an attempted whitewash of the scandal.

Interestingly, some commentators on television have revealed that Imran Khan was shown videos of such bribery shenanigans of Members of Provincial Assemblies from his party much earlier. They have also alleged that the PTI government was behind the release of the video publicly now as an attempt to bolster the government’s floundering case for an open ballot in the Senate elections to prevent just such goings on. However, these commentators hold that the ill thought through gambit has backfired if not blown up in the government’s face. As an aside, reflect on Interior Minister Shaikh Rashid’s latest two cents in which he says even an open ballot will not prevent horse trading and bribery, allegedly a fact of life in every Senate election.

Speaker National Assembly Asad Qaiser stands accused of involvement in the video skullduggery. Of course he has denied it vociferously. Defence Minister Pervez Khattak is accused of being a central figure if not the main force in the scandal. Circumstantially, it needs to be recalled that the MPAs concerned came from Aftab Sherpao’s Qaumi Watan Party (QWP) to the PTI, and were allegedly being bribed to stay loyal to the PTI in the 2018 Senate elections. Pervez Khattak was once a luminary of the QWP.

As though all this were not enough, Federal Minister for Water Resources Faisal Vawda faces disqualification proceedings before the Islamabad High Court (IHC) and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for failure to reveal his dual nationality when he contested the 2018 general elections for a National Assembly (NA) seat. The PTI has nominated him for the Senate election now, a move seen by analysts as an attempt to render these proceedings defunct as he would resign from the NA once elected to the Senate. But even if the IHC and the ECP find the petitions against him infructuous as a result, Vawda could, in legal experts’ opinion, be haunted by his hiding the truth about his dual nationality through a false affidavit, since he would no longer qualify as sadiq and ameen (honest and truthful). Readers need to recall that these were the very grounds on which the Supreme Court disqualified Nawaz Sharif.

Sadiq and Ameen Jahangir Tareen, the architect and reputed ‘ATM’ of the PTI, stands disqualified because of the sugar and other scandals. The importance of Jahangir Tareen for the rise to power of Imran Khan can also be assessed on the basis that he ‘engineered’ the south Punjab large landowners who are reputedly perennial collaborators of the establishment (since British colonial times) into joining the PTI-led coalition to ensure a majority, without which even the tissue thin credibility of the PTI government would not have been possible. Now his waning fortunes within the PTI may be reviving since his extraordinary ‘herding’ skills are required for the upcoming Senate elections.

Last but certainly not least, the hype about Imran Khan being an ‘honest’ and well-meaning man despite his self-confessed lack of ‘homework’ before taking office (which has translated into arguably one of the most inept governments in our history) needs to be tested on the touchstone of the fact that he accepted office on the basis of a general election widely believed to have been orchestrated if not rigged by the military establishment and after coming to power, had his illegal ‘palace’ in Bani Gala regularised for a paltry sum of money (purportedly a ‘fine’) while the rest of the illegal residents of Bani Gala were left crying that this was discrimination and injustice.

A perusal of just these few facts indicates that Imran Khan and the PTI have never taken the trouble to glance at their own reflection in the mirror of corruption that is endemic to our politics and national life, including our ‘holy cow’ institutions. Forget the corruption of state institutions whose example and practices have impacted society’s values across the board. Are we not aware of the ‘corruption’ that bedevils all elections in Pakistan? In general elections this is not confined to ‘pork barrel’ promises but takes the open form of material bribery of voters. An endemic, systemic state of corruption cannot be rooted out by targeting selectively the leaders of the opposition through a by now thoroughly discredited National Accountability Bureau as little more than the instrument of a political witch-hunt. ‘Accountability’ in our history, through successive regimes from Farooq Leghari, Nawaz Sharif to Pervez Musharraf and the present day, has been little else.

Indian PM Jawaharlal Nehru was fond of saying: give me 70 percent work and I will accept 30 percent corruption. In our experience, these percentages are incrementally veering towards the latter being 70 percent and the former a dubious 30 percent, a reversal-in-progress that is impacting and likely to destroy whatever is left of the state and its institutions’ functioning. Nawaz Sharif is still remembered for building the motorways. Perhaps that was a time when the percentages had not yet ‘reversed’. Now, in exile and therefore beyond the reach of our army of anti-corruption crusaders of dubious credentials, Nawaz Sharif speaks boldly against the top brass of the military in the belief and with the supreme confidence that history is on his side. Only time and circumstance will show whether he, our latest unlikely hero (of which our panoply stretches back through time), will be proved right or not.

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Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

Rashed Rahman

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