Pakistan at the Crossroads

Commentary | April 12, 2013

Writing for The News International, EWI Board Member Ikram Sehgal argues that Pakistan is undergoing a crisis in governance.

The phrase ‘may you live in interesting times’ is a Chinese curse heaped on an enemy. Frederic Coudert quotes an unknown British diplomat in 1936: “No age has been fraught with more insecurity than our present time.” Three years later the Second World War ravaged the world between 1939 and 1945. We in Pakistan have never ceased to live through such times throughout our checkered history.

Because of the geographical location and the consequent world politics that goes with it, our geopolitical situation is made tenuous because of religious diversities and permutations and combinations thereof. Notwithstanding the economic potential of an area astride the Indus River descending to a fertile delta from the high Karakoram Mountains down to the Indian Ocean, rich in agriculture and blessed with both minerals and skilled manpower we are perennially in crisis, mostly man-made disasters – earthquake and floods aside.

The hex on Pakistan is mainly because of the leaders we have been cursed with across the broad spectrum since the early demise of the Quaid in 1949 and the subsequent assassination of his close aide, Shaheed Liaquat Ali Khan in 1951. We continue to survive as a nation only because of the enormous resilience our people are blessed with. Even the bloody wake-up call we got in 1971 seemed only momentarily to distract us, thereafter it was back to "business" as usual of perennial bad governance. Things are even worse in that part of Pakistan, now Bangladesh since 1971.

A history of incompetence and corruption is further complicated by less than three million out of 180 million people paying direct taxes. The economy remains under pressure because of seriously deficient revenues. Consider: 70 percent of the legislators in the last parliament, who imperiously imposed taxes on the people, were neither registered taxpayers nor were they paying taxes themselves. The battle cry of the New Republic in 1776, “no taxation without representation,” could be paraphrased for Pakistan as “no taxation with representation.”

The leaders of two major political parties are the richest men in the country. Asif Ali Zardari and Mian Nawaz Sharif till very recently paid less tax than even the lowest salaried person in their own employ liable to pay taxes. Hiding of illegal wealth by misdeclaration and failure to pay requisite taxes are endemic, as are fake credentials being used to enter parliament and preside over the destiny of the nation. The many discrepancies in declaring their income and assets in previous years should by itself be enough to disqualify most, if not all, of the previous parliamentarians.

Enormous amounts of money are flowing out of the country, take for example the judgement in the UK by Justice Hamblen on February 13, 2013 in favour of complainant Deutsche Bank (Suisse) against Senator Gulzar Khan of the PPP, his sons Senators Waqar Khan (for some time the federal minister for privatisation and investment) and Ammar Khan, Senator Gulzar’s wife Razia Sultana and their daughter Sehr Asher and seven off-shore companies.

The judgement encompassing 73 pages includes mind-boggling amounts for purchase of the most expensive property in London in 2007, ultimately exceeding UK Pounds Sterling 100 million (Rs15 billion). The challenge for the ECP as a test case, how much taxes did these five billionaires pay in Pakistan, or the UK, ie if any, and pray what was their need for setting up seven off-shore companies?

The media as a champion of accountability has been correctly measured by those it, in theory, is meant to hold accountable. Details about the enormous wealth transferred abroad (what to talk about their bank defaults) of stalwarts of many political parties are not reported in Pakistan at all, or made public as they should be. Our media does not venture asking “inconvenient” questions; can any in the print and/or electronic media dare question why our topmost holder of public office does not declare his assets as every public official should?

The immediate problem is to ensure free and fair translation of the wishes of the electorate on May 11. In 2002 the military’s favourites were manoeuvred into public office, give credit to Maj Gen (r) Ihtesham Zamir (then of the ISI), son of late Zamir jafri, for his moral courage in standing up and accepting his responsibility for selectively rigging the vote for favourites on Gen Musharraf’s (‘illegal’) instructions. While the 2008 electoral process was not interfered into by the army, it was so badly flawed that hundreds entered parliament with fake educational qualifications and without correctly declaring their income, sources thereof and assets. The present process of scrutiny of candidates was deliberately rushed to pressurise officials of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in the field to accept flawed credentials of intending candidates.

In a case reported as ‘PLD 1984 Supreme Court (of Pakistan)’ Page 44 says: “Perjury is one of the most heinous social and moral offences. An offence punishable under the law as stipulated under Section 194 of the PPC, it is also against the injunctions of the Holy Quran (Sura Al-Nisa: 135), an evil which tends to disrupt the very basis of social order and make a mockery of the judicial system, be it Islamic or otherwise”.

Consider our uniformed young men in Swat, South Waziristan and elsewhere, as well as innocent civilians throughout the land, dying by the hundreds while frauds and perjurers revel in the luxuries and trappings of power while lording over us as feudals. To quote TV anchor Talat Hussain: “The greater the fraud the greater the reward in Pakistan.”

Telling lies under oath is a favorite (and profitable) pastime in South Asia, particularly in Pakistan. A person giving or fabricating false evidence is liable to be punished with imprisonment for life or with rigorous imprisonment, extending to ten years, and also liable to fine. Instead of getting entangled in legal technicalities proving the evidence as per our rather outdated and defective "laws of evidence" inherited from the British (who have long since changed them), if prima facie the previous declaration of assets by the candidates and filing of related information differs substantially from that submitted presently, evidenced also without commensurate increase in paying of taxes, then they are guilty of perjury.

Will we want certified perjurers to rule over our nation’s destiny for another five years? Or will the Supreme Court condone perjury under the ‘Doctrine of Necessity’ for sustaining democracy come what may at all costs, even to the peril of the nation?

Ikram Sehgal is a security analyst and chairman of PATHFINDER GROUP. He will be appearing at EWI's New York Center on April 16 to discuss "The Future of Pakistan.