Pakistan’s cyclic espousal of crime and corruption has reached a point where it can no longer be tolerated for the inherent threat it may pose to the state itself. More than others, it is about the role that the two political families have played in nurturing and deepening this culture in the country during their tenures in power, as also the defence of their conduct through multiple phases in the courts of law.
This insufferable phase of crime and corruption is owed to the respective advent of the Bhutto and Sharif dynasties in the annals of power vide the back doors. Their roles stretch beyond the domains of just spreading this scourge. The damage that some of their actions did to the state is substance for voluminous books, some of which have already hit the stands. In case of the Bhutto clan, it was their role in the dismemberment of the country that should have brought the curtain down on their political career and, in case of the Sharifs, their ambition to assume absolute authority, sans rules, regulations and the statute book, was proof enough of their ravaging lust to advance their self-interest. The common bond between the two clans was their greed for money and power nurtured at the cost of the cardinal interests of the state. Nothing could stop them from ingratiating their insatiable lust for more.
Their criminal indulgences should have exposed them to public censure. But, tragically, they did not because they nurtured and spread the scourge through all layers of the society, thus giving everyone a taste of its lucrative benefits. So, instead of blocking the path of the clans and the accompanying corruption, people were sucked into the trap. Virtually everyone who counted became a beneficiary of the sordid practices and a defender of their perpetrators.
Simultaneously, the two clans always projected their ouster from the corridors of power as victimhood, thus endearing themselves further with the populace due to their innate simplicity. So, from one debacle to the next, they somehow succeeded in alternating their sojourn in the corridors of power, and continuing to strip the state of its assets. While their personal wealth kept increasingly, the state was reduced to a mere skeleton, forever engaged in struggling to survive on the bounties of the friendly countries and loans from the international donor organisations. The budget deficits continued to grow till they were rendered unmanageable, thus gravely impacting the sovereignty of the state.
The wealth that the two clans amassed cultivated a flawed narrative in their minds: that no one else had a right to rule the country except them. In this context, they decided to tie themselves together in a bond through the Charter of Democracy (CoD). This was actually a contract for taking turns at ruling Pakistan and denuding it of its wealth. So, from a sovereign state, the two clans intended to transform it into their personal fiefdom which only they had a right to control. The tragedy is that they almost succeeded in their nefarious plan. In addition to the earlier stints, for 10 long and uninterrupted years, the country remained a hostage in their grip and turned into a shadow of its former self by exposing it to unchecked loot and plunder.
Their disdain for democracy and their intent to proclaim themselves as the self-anointed autocrats was evident from the fact that, upon their return to Pakistan, and after the holding of elections in 2008, the clans joined hands to quickly incorporate two amendments in the constitution: one relating to the abrogation of the minimum education requirement clause to suit Asif Ali Zardari, and the other to eliminate the bar on more than two terms as prime minister of the country to suit Nawaz Sharif. Thus, they thought, that they were not only set to lord over the loot and plunder spree, but also pass on the reins to their next generations to continue the indulgence. This was, by far, the worst time that the country faced in its traumatic history. Apparently, the two clans looked invincible with a treacherous hold on a vast spectrum of the electorate who had all tasted the illicit.
Then the Panama Papers were released unearthing the sleaze monies of the rich and powerful of the world. Nawaz Sharif’s family was also cited as a beneficiary of the loot. Proofs of their earnings which were invested in properties and businesses across the world capitals needed to be furnished. This started an unending campaign of lies and deceit, reflecting an obdurate and deep-set unwillingness to come out with the truth. The false stories of inherited wealth and profits from businesses, the fake Qatari letter, the Calibri font faux pas and so much else only strengthened the perception that here was a man lying through his teeth, without a shred of dignity or shame.
The drama did not stop there. They went a step further. They tried to put pressure on the judge, Arshad Malik, by first offering him hefty sums in bribe. They exploited him further by showing an old video implicating him in objectionable acts. They tried every wicked trick to have him pronounce the judgment in their favour.
But the pile of crimes was so massive that their legal defence fell apart. So, Nawaz Sharif was awarded an 8-year sentence, fined a hefty sum of money and disqualified from taking part in politics for life. One thought that it was the end of a bad dream, but one did not anticipate that an equally sordid story was to unfurl in the days, weeks and months to follow – something that we are still enduring with our teeth clenched and our nerves on the verge. The litany of lies has advanced to a new level as the media is continuously engaged with incentives to keep them in the news.
The other partner of the CoD, the People’s Party of Asif Ali Zardari, succeeded in again forming a government in Sindh after 2018 elections and quickly unleashed their own loot spree. He was also confronted with a pile of cases relating to his corruption of the past and some more were added with the discovery of “FRESH” information. He is doing rounds of the courts with the sword of disqualification hanging over his head and some of his close associates in the party. But there is no respite in the plunder spree as just about everyone has become a specialist in the nefarious trade. If justice system had been a little more justice-oriented, the punishments would already have been awarded with some of them having landed behind bars.
In spite of the seedy and unsavoury happenings, the future offers a mix of possibilities. On the one hand, these two clans are fighting for their survival in the political arena but, on the other hand, they are also busy in orchestrating an anti-institution tirade and getting it adequately projected in the media through their dime-a-dozen cronies planted there. There is no remorse and there is no shame. They are smitten with venom to obliterate those who have opposed them in order to save the country from their wicked clutches. With the older generations having done their bit, their children are fighting to control the reins to take the destructive game forward. While there may not be much opposition within the PPP for Bilawal to take charge after Zardari, it is the PML-N which appears to be splitting between the families of the two Sharif brothers. While an incontrovertibly devious, fraudulent and convicted Maryam is desperately trying to carry forth her father’s venomous legacy by assuming charge of the party, she is being challenged by Shahbaz Sharif and his son Hamza who are trying the reconciliation mantra to be able to survive in politics. With both sides corrupt to the core, victory of either is going to make little difference to the fate of the country.
When one reviews this in the context of the regional and international challenges that Pakistan faces, one’s heart misses a beat. With leaderships which are solely beholden to safeguarding and promoting their personal interests, it is the country which has to bear the brunt of their misdeeds as Pakistan has done through the years of its existence. In the process of taking this battering, it has been deprived of precious time and resources which could take it further.
This is no politics. This is a desperate battle to save the illicit billions which have no legitimate source to be traced to. This is a desperate battle to have their sins of the past washed away so that a fresh spree of loot and plunder could be unleashed. This is a desperate battle to weaken the state further so that they could manipulate it to hoist their flag over the rest. This is a desperate battle which can only breed destruction and mayhem, thus rendering the country vulnerable. This is a desperate battle for stamping personal ascendency over supremacy of the state. This is a desperate battle for crime and criminals to have sway over everything that still survives as decent and law-abiding.
This is neither justified in the annals of morality, nor would the law of the land permit such vile and gross indulgences. Appropriate parameters will have to be set to delineate the domain for political engagement which cannot and should not transgress the limits that would impact the cardinal interests of the state. No freedom can be exercised without bounds. Rights granted by the state come with responsibilities which have to be fulfilled.
Pakistan cannot afford another phase of uncharted destruction. Leaders should be recognised for what they actually are and not as how they would like themselves to be projected, given the limitless financial resources they have accumulated. Crime will be checked only if criminals are taken hold of and punished for their excesses. But if the criminals would roam free, crime is bound to dig deeper to weaken the foundations of the state. It is time for enacting tough laws and their indiscriminate application across all divides. It is the state which must be protected, not those who have disparaged it through their sojourns in the annals of power.
It is time for truth to come out in all its hues and colours, and without the deceitful layers of covers that some leaders would like their faces and their deeds to be hidden behind.