Dawn Editorial 14 January 2021

Broadsheet’s ‘revelations’

PRIME MINISTER Imran Khan is only partly correct in his assertion that the revelations by the UK-based firm, Broadsheet LLC, expose the “massive scale of our ruling elite’s corruption and money laundering”. The interview given by the company’s owner, Kaveh Moussavi, to a YouTube news channel also reveals the sham that has been the exercise of accountability in Pakistan. Mr Moussavi has made a number of assertions in his interview.
Among these is that an individual purporting to be former premier Nawaz Sharif’s nephew offered Broadsheet a $25m bribe to drop the probe into the Sharif family’s assets. Mr Moussavi also claimed to possess proof of corruption against a number of other Pakistanis. Mr Khan has formed an inter-ministerial committee to look into the matter and make the names of the individuals public.
Whatever the merits of Mr Moussavi’s claims, and some of them seem scarcely credible, he certainly appears to be a publicity seeker. Otherwise why stir the pot after so long? After all, it was back in 2000 that Broadsheet was hired by Gen Musharraf’s government to work with the newly set up NAB to track down Pakistanis’ ill-gotten wealth stashed overseas; the contract was terminated in 2003. Perhaps he is also hoping for a similar arrangement with the PTI government.
Certainly, probing white-collar corruption and money laundering is a laudable aim. Done with integrity, it strengthens institutions, improves governance and bolsters the citizens’ faith in the justice system. But when accountability is done selectively, giving some the benefit of the doubt while proceeding full throttle against others on thin evidence, if any at all, it corrodes the system still further. That unfortunately is the kind of ‘accountability’ we have been witness to in Pakistan for decades.
It is this country’s misfortune that, under NAB, accountability has become a handmaiden to political expediency and short-term gains. Among Mr Moussavi’s claims, the least startling are the ones about how NAB dropped investigations into high-profile corruption suspects after deals were struck with them, or took them off its list of ‘targets’ if those individuals came back into political favour. For, despite all the clamour in the lead-up to the 2018 election about bringing the corrupt to book, accountability under the PTI appears a lot like it did before — a political witch-hunt. Some credible exposés have oddly enough not even merited an inquiry by NAB.
No less than the Supreme Court has assailed the organisation for its blatantly biased approach, noting that it “seems reluctant in proceeding against people on one side of the political divide even in respect of financial scams of massive proportion while those on the other side are being arrested and incarcerated for months and years without providing any sufficient cause”. Despite this, NAB continues as before, trampling on constitutional rights without any apparent fear of itself being held to account.



Afghan dialogue

AS the Afghan Taliban and the government in Kabul try and reach a modus vivendi in Doha, it is essential that the level of violence is brought down to allow the peace process to succeed. This point was stressed by Pakistan’s civil and military leadership on Tuesday when prominent Afghan Hazara leader Ustad Karim Khalili called on both the prime minister and army chief during his visit to Islamabad. The comments are particularly important considering the history of bad blood between Afghanistan’s Hazara community and the Taliban. The latter were responsible for the 1998 massacre of hundreds, possibly thousands, of mostly Hazara victims in Mazar-i-Sharif; it is unlikely that memories of that atrocity have faded. However, if Afghanistan is to prosper, it must look forward while acknowledging its painful past. That is why the talks in Doha are so crucial. Afghan factions can talk to foreign forces all they want, but the fact remains that peace in that country is unlikely unless the Afghans talk to each other in a spirit of reconciliation and accommodation — all the more reason why violence from all sides, particularly the Taliban, needs to stop if the talks are to succeed.
Ever since the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan — and even before that — the country has been in a constant state of conflict. The communist, Mujahideen and Taliban eras were all marked by conflict and upheaval, retarding Afghanistan’s growth and forcing millions of Afghans to flee their homeland. Now, at a time when foreign forces are poised to leave, Afghan stakeholders have two choices before them: they can take advantage of the situation and work out a plan to share power and help establish a democratic system in which the interests of all ethnicities and sects, as well as women and minorities, are protected, or they can continue to battle it out and prolong the endless nightmare of the Afghan people. As for the Kabul elite, they need to put on a united front and discard internal factional divisions for the sake of harmony. For their part, the Taliban must join the political process. If their violent actions continue, it is highly unlikely that an intra-Afghan peace process can succeed. And with virulent militant actors such as the self-styled Islamic State group waiting in the wings to pounce, all Afghan forces must realise the importance of a negotiated settlement as soon as possible.



Polio dangers

IN the first incident of its kind this year, a policeman guarding polio vaccinators was gunned down in KP’s Karak district. Earlier last month, a similar killing took place in Bannu district when gunmen attacked an assistant sub-inspector who was returning to the police station after providing security to polio workers. At times, it seems that the battle against extremist mindsets is harder than the battle against poliovirus. No one would feel this more acutely than the thousands of polio workers — and those protecting them. Yet, they courageously keep coming back to this long-drawn fight when they are called, putting themselves in danger each time. At present, polio teams in the country are engaged in a five-day national immunisation drive. With the raging Covid-19 pandemic, however, their job has become even more difficult. Polio immunisation was halted for more than four months in the first half of 2020 as a precautionary step against the spread of Covid-19 — meaning that many children could not be inoculated against polio. This situation was aggravated because of the aggressive resurgence of the polio virus since 2019. Meanwhile, the attacks on polio teams in KP show there is still much resistance to polio vaccination thanks to fallacious theories. The result is that thousands of children are not vaccinated against the crippling disease. Suspicious mindsets are perhaps the biggest impediment to polio eradication in the country.
Though successive governments have promised to end the curse of polio, their efforts are more for show as structural and consistent steps towards this goal are not taken. Earlier, the prime minister had stated that it was a “shame” that Pakistan was one of two countries where polio was still endemic. If the government is sincere about overcoming the challenge, it should immediately start working towards rooting out the sources of misinformation regarding the vaccine and persuade our elected representatives to personally engage in raising awareness and addressing the concerns of those resisting immunisation for their children.

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