THERE is a list circulating on the social media these days of distinguished Pakistani women. It includes those who had without too much doubt been the victims of the vengeance of the rulers of the time.

It’s quite a select band, boasting of names such as Begum Nusrat Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto at the top, even though the more down-to-earth political workers, including the PPP’s own Shahida Jabeen, oddly fail to make it to the roll of honour. But then, maybe it’s about royalty and the worthier members of their coterie.

The list has been flashed in the wake of the recent dramatic transfers to the lockup of first Ms Maryam Nawaz and then Ms Faryal Talpur, two women of entirely different political backgrounds brought together on stage by the brilliant minds that operate the National Accountability Bureau.

Reports say Ms Nawaz was meeting her incarcerated father, former prime minister Mian Nawaz Sharif, at the infamous Kot Lakhpat jail when she was arrested. The government has denied these details about the PML-N politician being picked up by the zealous accountability hawks in the presence of her father. That doesn’t stop the PML-N workers from exploiting the arrest as one of the most pungent examples of the sense of vengeance they allege prevails in the official camp against the Sharifs and their associates.


The Leaguers may yet lack the PPP’s powers of histrionics to build up the imagery of resistance. But surely, such acts by NAB — a political leader, a woman, being picked up only three days before Eid — will help the Noon chroniclers establish a narrative of their own.

Those on the accountability front appear to make an effort to ensure that the campaign is not in any way eclipsed by other events.

There was little mystery about how Ms Faryal Talpur, perhaps the most powerful woman politician in the PPP at this moment, was removed from Polyclinic in Islamabad and sent to Adiala Jail.

The images of Ms Talpur being forced to walk out of the hospital may not have led to the outrage they deserved, mainly because the PPP is too weighed down by allegations right now to seek and expect public sympathy or even selective condemnation by independent rights observers of any acts against it. In any event, the sight of a Faryal Talpur taunting and cursing the government would have been entirely unnecessary.

The most important fact: the newspapers said the doctors had wanted to keep Ms Talpur in hospital for treatment. NAB officials ruled against medical advice as they took away Ms Talpur, ensuring that she was soundly locked up inside prison to experience how the inmates went about celebrating Eid.

The images of a woman who has been painted as the epitome of corrupt dynasties might have provided quite a lot of satisfaction to a part of Pakistan — a rather large part of it in fact. This chunk, according to the most recent elections and current estimates, supports the PTI in making the worst example out of those proved corrupt. But there are other models to be taken into account as you go about presenting lists of women and others, who suffered under the vengeful campaigns of accountability in the past.

The PPP with its proud history of having been led valiantly by women from the Bhutto family has been more at the receiving end of these wild campaigns for accountability that in due time petered out, becoming silly personal attempts at browbeating opponents. They have been subjected to these pressure tactics so many times that after one point, the PPP stopped condemning them, as if perpetuating such actions against one particular gender (women) was specifically more outrageous than their being used against the party’s male activists.

The PML-N is new at exposing women from its royal household to the vagaries of an accountability brigade. But whereas it could well be mocked at for its past excesses against the Benazirs of this world, the ultimate question is, why would the other side even risk being projected by sections of media as sadist prosecutors drawing a high from certain scenes, such as a politician with a lot of potential to command the respect of a large number of people being taken into custody in a manner that is odd to say the least?

Unfortunately, one may not have to look too far for an answer to this very fundamental question that has brought all accountability drives in the past into disrepute. The rulers in the past were unable to distance themselves from the legal machinery at such times. Indeed, they were pulled into the whirlpool by failing to control their desire of enjoying — celebrating — the miseries that had now been heaped upon rivals by an accountability juggernaut which they otherwise claimed acted on its own.

The current situation is not dissimilar. The pleasure that the current lot in government obviously derives at the sight of an old politician in the opposition is quite the standard in this country’s history that has been full of accountability campaigns. If anything, and because the incumbents and the media say that the Pakistani people’s sentiment against the corrupt is at its peak, it is reflected in the louder-than-usual cries of joy that members of the PTI government let out.

Those on the accountability front appear to make an effort to ensure that the campaign is not in any way eclipsed by other events in the country. If a Kashmir or a Karachi ever threatened to take centre stage in the media, there has to be something big from the accountability arena worthy of quick notice by the people through the media.

This seems to be one logical explanation that could be discussed in an effort to understand why Ms Maryam Nawaz and Ms Faryal Talpur got the exposure they did. The message is that, come rain or floods or Indian adventurism, ‘this time’ there’s going to be no let up in the drive to punish the corrupt rulers of the past.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, August 16th, 2019