Can N.A.B. Eliminate Corruption Without Manipulating Elections?
By Malik Siraj Akbarr
The dust has settled down and the outcry over the imposition of the governor rule in Balochistan seems to have faded away. Political parties in the province are deeply divided on the issue of the dismissal of the P.P.P. government. Some political leaders, such as Senator Hasil Khan Bizenjo of the National Party, say the previous government was too corrupt to survive and complete its full term in the office.
The only political forces that are protesting against the governor rule are the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (J.U.I.) and the Balochistan National Party (B.N.P.), which remained coalition partners of the P.P.P. in the previous government. They feel deeply agitated and betrayed by the P.P.P. central leadership because these two parties in Balochistan helped to thwart an attempt by former Balochistan Assembly Speaker Mohammad Aslam Bhootani to oust Chief Minister Nawab Mohammad Aslam Raisani. They collectively passed a no-trust motion against the Speaker and subsequently replaced him with a J.U.I. legislator. The J.U.I. and the B.N.P.-Awami have been been staged walkouts from the Senate to protest the imposition of the governor rule but these agitations are too weak to compel President Zardari to lift the governor rule.
If the ouster of the Raisani government is now an irreversible reality, the first wish the people of Balochistan would like to make is to ask for holding the previous government accountable on corruption charges. Some have blamed the Raisani administration as the most corrupt government in the history of Balochistan. When in office, Raisani and his cronies were repeatedly accused of indulging in massive financial irregularities misuse of powers. Besides looting the national exchequer with absolute impunity, Raisani and the members of his cabinet were also blamed for patronizing those who kidnapped wealthy citizens for ransom, conducted highway robberies, stole vehicles on gunpoint, hoarded wheat and indulged in drug smuggling.
Soon after the dismissal of the Balochistan government, Major (retired) Burhan Ali, Director General of N.A.B. Balochistan, said the institution he headed in Balochistan had initiated corruption cases against several ministers of the previous government. According to the last available reports, the N.A.B. is investigating corruption cases against as many as 16 ministers from the Raisani government.
A shufti at the list of the accused politicians leads us to the depressing reminder about the omnipresence of corruption in our society. Those who have been accused of corruption do not belong to one political party, ethnic group, geographical region or government department. Elected representatives from all political parties who held key ministries such as health, education, food and Balochistan Development Authority, among others, face corruption charges. The N.A.B. says the vicious cycle of corruption is not only limited to political figures. According to another report, several bureaucrats currently serving on senior positions such as secretaries, directors general and directors of various departments are also accused of corruption. The N.A.B. says it intends to punish corrupt bureaucrats as well.
So what does the opening of corruption cases against crook politicians mean for Balochistan?
Of course, it means a lot for the people of the country’s most impoverished and underdeveloped province. The politicians have betrayed the voters’ trust and, on the contrary, used their stints to accumulate wealth for themselves while looting the public money.
Does the N.A.B. have the capability to accomplish this desired goal? Well, that is the million dollar question and, unfortunately, the answer is negative.
The N.A.B., founded in November 1999, is a dormant, controversial and a seasonal institution which comes under public and media attention only during the election seasons. An institution that ensures transparency and serves as checks and balances is extremely important in a democratic society. The N.A.B. should have established itself as that much-needed institution but it has failed to establish a reputation as a nonpartisan body. Most of N.A.B. operations are questionable because either they are apparently intended to punish political opponents soon after the dismissal of one government or meant to blackmail politicians to support a certain political party backed by the security establishment. The N.A.B. is indirectly yet deeply associated with the Pakistani military because the bulk of its top brass comes with a military background. The military, on its part, is infamous for engineering elections, supporting certain individual candidates and political parties during elections.
Interestingly, some of the ministers in Balochistan facing corruption charges this time are the ones who were convicted by the N.A.B. soon after General Musharraf’s coup in 1999. Many of these politicians went in hiding to avoid imprisonment. However, they successfully reconciled with the N.A.B. after agreeing to support General Musharraf’s shame referendum in April 2002. As a quid pro quo to their support to Musharraf, all corrupt politicians were allowed in October that year to participate in the general elections and support Musharraf for the next five years.
Ironically, those who were convicted for corruption also included Nawab Zulfiqar Ali Magsi, the current governor of Balochistan.
“How is it possible?” asked popular television host Mehar Bukhari in a 2008 interview with Nawab Magsi on Samaa Television.
“Well, this is Pakistan. Everything is possible,” replied the smug governor and admitted, “I am a man who has been convicted of corruption but here I am sitting in front of you as the governor of the country’s largest province. What else do you need to realize that everything is possible in this country.”
There is almost no public support for the B.N.P.-Awami and J.U.I.-Fazal when they plead that corruption charges against them should be dropped. People also do not subscribe to their plea that they are being subjected to political victimization. Legal action must be taken against all corrupt politicians and bureaucrats. Our concern, nonetheless, remains the same: whether or not N.A.B. proves itself as a transparent, nonpartisan, professional organization or remains a mere tool to blackmail politicians and engineer elections? The process of accountability should take place without any fear and favor. Public expectations are very high ahead of the upcoming elections hoping that corrupt politicians would be disqualified and punished. If the N.A.B. abandons its past policies and performs as an incorruptible organized institution, it will do a great service to the people of Balochistan.
This editorial was originally published in The Baloch Hal on January 29, 2013