Accountability has always been selective in Pakistan, launched mostly by undemocratic forces to coerce politicians into supporting the policies of autocratic leaders. Those who refused to toe the lines of such tyrants were defamed and humiliated.
The second prime minister of the country, Khawaja Nazimuddin was opposed to a Western-led military alliance. So, he was first weakened through communal riots and later shown the door. Another Bengali prime minister, Hussain Shaheed Suharwardi, was ousted for expressing reservations over the hobnobbing of state elements with the Western capitalist world. He was also sacked in a disgraceful manner.

General Ayub Khan defanged his opponents by enacting what his rivals called ‘anti-politicians laws’, and getting his political enemies disqualified through these laws. The general stuffed his ranks with corrupt elements besides introducing the Basic Democracies system that ended up strengthening the position of unscrupulous leaders. General Yahya Khan continued the legacy of his military master in turbulent era marred by mismanagement and bad governance. The 1971 debacle was partly caused by his imprudent policies and the short-sightedness of some politicians and military leaders.

Despite all demerits, Bhutto’s era was not marred by corruption. Even his political rivals waged an ideological war to dislodge him instead of hurling allegations of corruption at the populist leader. Bhutto launched vindictive activities in the name of accountability; he fired hundreds of civil servants as well as moving against political rivals and mediapersons. Bhutto unleashed a reign of terror, granting carte blanch to the federal security force that at the end of the day ended up jeopardising not only his autocratic rule but his own life as well. In a zeal to teach a tough lesson to his political enemies, he ended up creating an environment that was exploited by military dictator General Zia who not only toppled his government but also plunged the country into a chaotic situation, which led to the rise of sectarian and communal parties.

Benazir Bhutto’s first era again witnessed a selective process of accountability. The restoration of democracy did not bring much relief to the masses. Benazir also tried to settle scores with her political opponents, using sledgehammer tactics against the MQM and other political enemies. Instead of ameliorating the condition of the downtrodden who had pinned all hopes on the daughter of Bhutto, she launched a process of privatisation, deregulation and liberalisation that ended up promoting cronyism and rampant corruption. It was at this time that her husband Asif Ali Zardari earned notoriety for alleged corruption. The idea of independent power producers was also coined during the same time which led to the vicious circle of circular debt.

The first tenure of Nawaz Sharif witnessed vindictive activities as well. The Punjab-based politician used Sindh Chief Minister Jam Sadiq Ali to persecute the PPP. Several leaders of the PPP had to go into hiding and dozens others ended up in jail after being implicated in fake cases. Nawaz was accused of stuffing his ranks with corrupt politicians from General Zia’s time.

Nawaz himself championed the cause of the late dictator, vowing to follow his ideology. Several of his party leaders allegedly embezzled funds but none of them was booked or brought to justice as they were the part of the ruling elite. Nawaz too was accused of corrupt practices in the Yellow Cab and other government schemes but since the country lacked an independent accountability body, nothing was done against him.

The second tenure of Benazir Bhutto was again turbulent. On the one hand, the largest city of the country was going through political turmoil and on the other fanatical elements in the north-west of the country challenged the writ of the state in Malakand. The liberal prime minister crushed the revolt of the religious right but it took her three years to calm the situation in the metropolis of Karachi. Her government was sacked in 1996 and one of the allegations was corruption and misgovernance.

After the dissolution of the assembly, Nawaz Sharif was again voted into power. This time he set up the Ehtisaab Bureau, granting unbridled freedom to PML-N leader Saifur Rehman, who not only turned the life of PPP leader Zardari into hell but also targeted several business groups and media houses. Zardari spent most of his time in jail during Nawaz’s second tenure. Other PPP leaders also faced the wrath of Saifur Rehman. Some of them fled the country and others were implicated in politically-motivated cases.

Musharraf too used the tool of accountability to bolster his government. The general kicked out both Benazir and Nawaz effectively but inducted some reportedly corrupt elements of the two parties into his government. He also appeased clerics to strengthen his position.

It seems the ruling elite has learnt nothing from the past and now the Imran Khan government is also carrying out a selective accountability of politicians. The National Accountability Bureau, despite tall claims of being neutral, is seen as partial. It is felt that the accountability process is targeted at the opposition parties.

PML-N politicians say that some of their leaders are behind bars despite the fact that no case has been proved against them yet and they have been attending all NAB investigations. They feel that this attitude of NAB has blurred the line between accountability and political victimisation. NAB’s decision to open an inquiry against outspoken PML-N leader Maryam Aurangzaib clearly is also cited as an example.

There are also questions about the recent razing of the meagre settlements of the poor as opposed to the decision to allow some parts of Bani Gala to be regularised. The justice system is being seen as soft on those affiliated with the ruling regime.

Let’s be clear: in today’s world perception tends to be larger than reality. This perception should not be allowed to capture the imagination of the people because it is the only hope of the Pakistani masses who are tired of the corruption and mismanagement wreaked by our politicians.

The courts should step in and ensure that NAB carries out activities against corrupt elements without regard to their political affiliation. Otherwise, the negative propaganda by the opposition will not only dent the reputation of the accountability body but will also place a question mark on the performance of our justice system. The court has rightly snubbed NAB in recent weeks for unnecessarily harassing people. One hopes that it will continue keeping a vigilant eye on the actions of this national body so that any machinations against the institution of justice are stemmed on time and effectively.

The writer is a freelance journalist.