360 degree accountability

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Every time the word ‘accountability’ is uttered, it generates different meanings for different people. Some rejoice at the promised purge. Others, recalling the past, recoil at the futility of it all. An exercise almost always starting with much pomp and show and most often ending in a squib.

For who does not remember the infamous ehtisaab of 90s under Saifur Rehman and later rechristened one during the Gen Musharraf era? Both these endeavours were seen as a means of grinding the opposition of the time and making certain politicians fall in line. It mostly has worked to the benefit of the initiators however what suffered was the true process of accountability itself to the extent that the very process lost its credibility in the eyes of the people.

As in the past, lately also politicians and bureaucrats more than others have been in the cross hairs of this phenomenon.  Those who have been on the receiving end have been blaming the graft watchdog- NAB which has been at the forefront of crusading against corruption- of which-hunting. The statistics as well as optics support their claim.

The incumbent government has been vociferous in claiming that accountability institutions are independent of any pressure and are working as they should.

In a latest development, provincial minister and senior PTI leader Aleem Khan has been taken into custody by NAB over charges of possessing assets beyond means including the two offshore companies. In Aleem’s arrest, the govt is faced with a test.

The immediate reaction from the PTI was of shock. No less than the party chairman and prime minister Imran Khan has called it a “balancing act” ostensibly to appease the opposition which so far has faced the brunt of accountability.

Whereas the opposition was either dumbstruck or was weighing its options before reacting to this unexpected and sudden development. Their reaction which is yet to take shape will be interesting to watch.

Pakistan Tehreek –i-Insaf minister for Information Fawad Chaudhry took this opportunity to lend credibility to their party’s claims of NAB being impartial, quickly adding as an afterthought that Aleem Khan is innocent and that his case is different from the rest. Citing Aleem’s resignation as a precedent he called upon the Leader of the opposition in the Lower House of the Parliament Shehbaz Sharif to follow the course and resign as he is also in the NAB dock on multiple charges.

Aleem is the only representative of the PTI-led coalition government to have gone into NAB custody. Others, including Babar Awan, Mahmood Khan, the K-P CM, Azam Khan, the PM’s principal secretary, and Chaudhry brothers have only been summoned by NAB for questioning.

Mere one arrest from the government’s ranks is not going to assuage the grievance of the opposition. It will take much more to put to rest the alleged partiality of the graft watchdog. A beginning although has been made. It needs to be built on.