The Varying Standards Of Accountability In Pakistan Stand Exposed
It would seem that in the cacophony of debate over FATF legislature and the devastation in Karachi, a bombshell investigative report on the vast business network of one Special Advisor to PM Khan (who has now tendered his resignation) went unnoticed. So thorough and exacting were Ahmad Noorani and his team that this SAPM’s family’s each and every financial maneuver was evidenced with official registration documents, dates and investment amounts. With its breadth and sharpness of detail, this was an investigative piece that was made for prime-time. Graphs and charts, original documents, the works.
Yet, no one picked up on it.
A few Twitter trends, some noise on other social media and it seemed that the Fact Focus team’s labour of love would soon be forgotten.
But Noorani and company were smart enough to know that.
They knew that had they dug up some other politician’s financial history it would have set the airwaves alight. But this shrewd politician’s past occupations cannot be easily brushed aside. Asim Bajwa was until recently working as SAPM on Information and Broadcasting and he also chairs the esteemed CPEC authority, but just a few months prior he was a Lieutenant General, serving alongside Pakistan’s finest.
Alas, the confusion dissipates. The general turned politician is a general first and everything else later. Incidentally, Bajwa ran the army’s public relations wing and is widely credited for innovative propaganda projects. For such a robust piece of investigative journalism to come to haunt him is irony at its frigid best.
But this is not a piece to debate the merits of the trove of information released by Fact Focus. Rather, I will only seek to question why are not allegations of corruption and fostering wealth taken seriously when it comes to those in uniform?
The answer is simple. Do it and you are immediately labeled a traitor, an Indian agent, a foreign spy and a yellow journalist hellbent on destroying Pakistan’s economy. As the news picked up steam on Twitter, some trolls labelled the report an attack on CPEC. Little could be as puerile as this argument. But whenever there is even a whiff of financial misdemeanours from some gentleman in uniform, the accuser is harassed and bullied to no end. Our nation’s accountability bureau has been vociferously active of late, but no notices showed up at the doorstep of the Bajwa’s. The blatant double standard really does boggle the mind. How is asking a soldier turned politician to respond to allegations tantamount to treason? If anything, refusing to be held accountable is a brazen attack on the CPEC’s integrity. Why didn’t Asim Bajwa resign as the head of CPEC Authority?
It is painfully obvious that this government will not send Bajwa packing. Khan does not have the courage and Bajwa knows that this too might pass.
Even leading lights in the journalism world such as Nasim Zehra and Quatrina Hussain have called Noorani’s work ‘RAW-backed’. Scores of Twitter accounts have attacked Noorani in the most juvenile of ways. Shahzeb Khanzada dared to ask Bajwa about the allegations much but technical issues meant that the latter’s line was cut.
After a bewildering press release from Bajwa, highlighting divestments from Mrs. Bajwa just in time for asset declaration, millions of dollars of loans granted in exchange for paltry investments and a long line of defunct, dormant or failing companies, he resigned from the post of SAPM. Why the need arose given the explanation is another maze to navigate.
So pleased was PM Khan with Bajwa’s explanation of his money trail that he refused to accept the resignation. Is he really this indispensable? Is no elected civilian lawmaker competent enough to take on the portfolio of information and broadcasting? Zafar Mirza and Taina Aidrus were allowed to quietly exit but the likes of Amir Liaquat and Asim Bajwa, it seems, are irreplaceable.
Word now has it that the chair of the CPEC authority enjoys legal immunity. One only hopes that these same gentlemen that shout accountability for all would abide by this code in their practical lives.
Bajwa Saheb should the honourable thing and by exiting, until an inquiry is completed and facts established, he will only enhance the stature of public offices he holds.
Zarnaab Adil is a graduate of the Wagner School at NYU. He is an author and a political risk consultant based in Brooklyn, NYC.