Originally Published 2005-01-16 10:46:08 Published on Jan 16, 2005
Accountability, like any other term associated with modern good governance, is a grossly abused word in Pakistan. Just as the victors of a war determine what the terms of the peace are, the people running the government determine what sort of accountability, and whom to target with it, the country requires.
Zardari and the curious incident of NAB
Accountability, like any other term associated with modern good governance, is a  grossly abused word in Pakistan. Just as the victors of a war determine what the  terms of the peace are, the people running the government determine what sort of  accountability, and whom to target with it, the country requires. It all boils  down to the simple fact that those who are in the government will malign,  torment and persecute those who have been thrown out of it. With twists and  turns of political fortunes, accountability has never  known to have achieved anything worthy for all the money spent on it.

It is, therefore, not surprising that Gen  Musharraf has not even made a pretense to do justice to his "fair, impartial,  across-the-board" claim. So it was all hunky-dory with him as he spared the  religious leaders in the Opposition, Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) in order to set  up what came to be known as the secret Military-Mullah Alliance. For all the  NAB's evangelical zeal to recover the "billions" embezzled from the state  treasury, this secret arrangement explains why it was so bullish on, for  instance, Asif Ali Zardari and not at all so on the religio-political leaders.  This in spite of the evidence that some of the religious leaders were involved  in funnelling money for the Al-Qaeda terror network. What it underlined was not  only the patent double standards and prejudice informing the whole  accountability process, but also the ugly skeletons in the cupboard the state wanted to hide from public view.

 Not very long ago, Zardari was the last politician the NAB was expected to hold  its fire on. But then, just like what happened in the Holmes mystery, the NAB  failed to bark when he was released from eight years of prison on court orders.

Not once, but twice, on November 22 last and then a month later. Zardari was  arrested on November 5, 1996 under the Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance, a  black law of the first order that allowed the government to take into custody  anyone for 90 days without formally charging the person. The arrest came  immediately after the sacking of the second Benazir Bhutto government. Later 21  cases were levelled against him one after the other of which 13 came up before  the court while in the rest he was exonerated during inquiry or acquitted by the  court. The time-honoured tradition has been that each time he was bailed out or  acquitted, a fresh charge was slapped on his face. This precluded his release,  even though in eight years the state failed to produce a shred of conclusive  evidence to prove him guilty. So why the NAB did not slam Zardari with a new  charge when he was bailed out twice? That is the curious incident.

The NAB's strange behaviour coincided with the official talk of political  reconciliation the government wanted to bring about in the country. The idea of  improving political atmospherics, meaning thereby attempts to build bridges to  the moderate forces, did not occur to Gen Musharraf not a day before the  Military-Mullah bonhomie started soaring by the middle of 2004. By the time  Zardari was released, the MMA had been dead against Gen Musharraf remaining as  army chief beyond December. Yet, his rearrest on December 21 and release the  next day, both by court orders, were the powerful signals the establishment has  sent that it will all too readily deploy the accountability blackmail if Zardari  poses a serious threat to Gen Musharraf's political allies. In other words,  expediency is the rule and accountability, the exception.

For Zardari, he has seen it all before. In August 1990, President Ghulam Ishaq  Khan dismissed the first Benazir government for alleged corruption, incompetence  and financial mismanagement. Zardari, who by then had done enough to guarantee  endurance of "Mr 10 per cent" nickname in popular imagination, was arrested  and later imprisoned on corruption charges, with figures again running into  "billions". Enter a sudden, unexpected list in the political preferences of  the establishment in the summer of 1993, the same tormentor President summoned  the slandered Zardari from his purgatory and administered his oath as a cabinet  minister, no less, in the newly-inducted Balakh Sher Mazari interim government.

During the second Benazir government, the courts washed away all the sins of  corruption of Pakistan's first couple in no time, for the roles of the hounded  and the hounder have been changed. The interminable farce of accountability in  Pakistan would have been laughable if it were not so ridiculous.

The army-intelligence establishment has been at it since 1958, when the army  took over power for the first time in the country. Accountability of corrupt  politicians, that is its theme song. In the process, it has made a valiant  attempt to diminish politicians, particularly leaders of non-religious parties,  tainting them all with the brush of corruption. It is not that politicians are  incorruptible, and some of them are indeed monstrously corrupt. But all that is  beside the point. Historical convention is that strict accountability of the  executive, judiciary and military is the first building block in the creation of  a modern civil society. In Pakistan, accountability is perhaps better understood  as the army-intelligence establishment's most successful business deal to  intervene in politics, cover the tracks of massive corruption in its own ranks  and blackmail politicians in order to divide and rule.

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