Accountability for all?

On Monday, Aleem Khan’s physical remand was extended by an accountability court till March 5. His arrest amid the very loud, but equally contentious, accountability drive has been seen by the ruling PTI as the vindication of its anti-corruption movement, which the party has long maintained will result in equality for all – do nahi aik Pakistan, if you will.

That was until Sindh Assembly Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani was arrested by the NAB on corruption charges. It has also fanned the earlier claims of the opposition parties, which had maintained that Aleem Khan’s arrest was designed to ‘counterbalance’ a more widespread crackdown against PTI’s rivals.

The merits and demerits of either arrest notwithstanding perhaps a flashback is overdue – and so is a reality check. For the latter, Jehangir Tareen’s example would suffice, who continues to run the ruling party despite having been disqualified for life under the same Supreme Court verdict as former premier Nawaz Sharif. His son, meanwhile, is running an entire PSL franchise, albeit one that seems to be struggling in the first half of the group stages.

Even so, if the so called accountability drive is to be brought down to numbers, the scale is still tilted against the opposition parties, hinting at that what these parties feel is accountability being carried out selectively and being wielded as a political tool.

Starting with the Sharifs; there is hardly any prominent members of the Sharif family who has not been targeted in one way or another. In 2017, the then Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif was disqualified following investigations into the Panama Papers case; but the verdict against him was owing to a receivable income that he hadn’t received from his son.

In July 2018, Nawaz Sharif was sentenced, along with Maryam Nawaz and Captain (r) Safdar in the Avenfield Reference – one of the three references filed by NAB against the Sharif family. Another reference was filed against Ishaq Dar regarding the former Finance Minister possessing assets beyond known sources of income.

In December 2018, Nawaz Sharif was again sentenced to seven years in prison after being found guilty in the Al-Azizia reference case. On Monday, the Islamabad High Court on Monday rejected the petition seeking Nawaz Sharif’s release on bail on medical grounds.

In October, last year, PML-N President and Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif was arrested by NAB Lahore in the Ashiana Housing scandal. Similarly, PML-N leader Khawaja Saad Rafique and his brother Khawaja Salman Rafique are currently in judicial custody over the Paragon Housing Scheme scam, which NAB is probing into.

Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) Cochairman Asif Ali Zardari has also not been spared as proceedings against him, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and former Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah were initiated in which they allegedly took over state run entities under the Omni Group by declaring them ‘sick units’. Both Bilawal and Murad Ali Shah were placed on the Exit Control List as well.

Asif Ali Zardari’s sister, Faryal Talpur has also been targeted in the Iqama case along with the issue of undeclared offshore properties. She, along with others, is being accused of money laundering as well.

Of course, here the merit and demerit of each individual case is overlooked and merely the statistical imbalance shared. Unless of course one somehow manages to conjure the belief that the cases linked to members of the ruling party, on average, have significant disparity on the scale of justice to those of the opposition parties – such as to substantiate the imbalance.

After all, everyone knows what would happen to the Prime Minister – or well pretty much any Parliamentarian – if Articles 62 and 63 are applied. If you’re willing to comply with the powers that be, you will be spared from the accountability drive. Let’s see how much the opposition parties fall in line in the near future.

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