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Why change is good for Pakistan

Aug 10,2017 - Last updated at Aug 10,2017

Pakistan celebrates its 70th independence day on August 14 following a judicial verdict that ousted its democratic leader. How will the change shape the future of the country?

Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was sworn in as the prime minister of Pakistan on August 1 after the supreme court disqualified Nawaz Sharif on corruption grounds. 

Abbasi, former petroleum minister and a member of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), won a majority in the national assembly. The interim prime minister will serve until general elections next year.

There were reports of large crowds celebrating outside the supreme court in Islamabad right after the ruling. Slogans were chanted. Sweets distributed. Social media was full of tweets and statuses of how the faith of people in institutions was restored.

The decision marked the end of the long-running Panama Gate drama which accused Sharif of accumulating wealth through offshore companies under his children’s names. An allegation that he denied. 

For months there were protests, political rallies, media debates and news coverage demanding justice. 

“In a democracy, one leads by moral authority,” said Imran Khan chairman of the opposition party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf(PTI).“…and Nawaz Sharif has lost it the day his corruption was exposed.”

The mood in Pakistan was one of optimism and hope. Justice prevailed. No one, not even the prime minister seemed to be above the law.

Yet the foreign media reported this hearing in a negative light. Articles said the SC ruling was a result of a conspiracy between the army and Imran Khan. One article even suggested that corruption charges should have been resolved by political not judicial means. A few headlines said it was the death of democracy in Pakistan that no prime minister served his full term. 

These stories, unfortunately show a lack of insight into Pakistani politics. 

No one should be hiding behind exceptionalism or elitism. The rules should apply equally to all. Corruption further undermines the already fragile institutions of the country. Accountability needs to be enforced at all levels and not by political but judicial means to redirect Pakistan towards lawfulness. 

This was not the first time Panama Papers has disqualified a leader. Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson resigned last year on corruption charges. 

The problem is when Western democracies take such steps, it’s applauded and celebrated. However, when developing nations like Pakistan do so, it’s considered a conspiracy. 

In too many countries, people are deprived of their most basic needs and go to bed hungry every night because of corruption, while the powerful and corrupt enjoy lavish lifestyles with impunity,” said José Ugaz, president of Transparency International.

The same organisation gave Pakistan a score of 32 on the perceived public sector corruption in 2016 on a scale of 0 (highly corrupt)
to 100 (clean). 

It’s extremely rare for this part of the world, where judges and lawyers are bought, to see such a landmark hearing

Now a certain level of kleptocracy was always accepted in Pakistan. People liked to turn a blind eye to it and consider it a part of the electoral process. But this time the looting, tax evasion and hidden assets went way beyond what the public could tolerate. There tax payers demanded accountability. 

People were demanding that the rules of transparency be the same for all. Politicians, bureaucrats, military personnel, media influencers or judges, all should be held accountable. Other developing countries started following suit. 

Recently, Nepal and India demanded a speedy trial against their corrupt leaders named in Panama Papers. 

The system of accountability, although still nascent, has begun to take shape.What repercussions will it have going forward? How will the influential now try to hide their money? If such a powerful leader like Nawaz Sharif was held accountable for corruption, other political and institutional leaders will also be.

One should be optimistic about the future of Pakistan. A lot of things are going right for the country. Its GDP grew at almost 6 per cent.Stock market capitalisation doubled since 2012. Investments are pouring in since the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor or CPEC. It’s a nation heading towards the right direction. Now all it needs is a system to ensure greater transparency is here to stay. 

“Democracy cannot be imposed on any nation from the outside,” said Barack Obama in his address to the United Nations General Assembly in 2009. 

“Each society must search for its own path, and no path is perfect”. 

 

 

The writer, from Pakistan, has studied journalism from Hong Kong University and worked for Bloomberg and Google. She has lived in Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, Singapore and Pakistan. She contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

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