In the latest twist in the ongoing saga of the Donald Trump presidency Michael Flynn, the retired three-star general who was briefly appointed National Security Advisor before being removed from office after he was found to have lied about meeting the Russian ambassador to the United States, has reportedly offered present to himself before the House Intelligence Committee and disclose all he knows about Trump’s connection to Russia in exchange for immunity from any potential prosecution. Trump’s Russia woes, which seem to be intensifying with the launch of inquiries into potential collusion between his election campaign and the Russian government, are only exacerbated by the additional ethics-related concerns that continue to shadow his presidency; earlier this week, for example, the announcement that Trump’s daughter Ivanka would be taking up an official role in the White House was quickly followed by reports that she would not be divesting from her numerous business interests, generating well-founded concerns regarding potential conflicts of interest arising out of this arrangement. Such issues have dogged Donald Trump ever since his electoral victory in November, and accusations that he and his family see the presidency as a means through which to enrich themselves and their cronies are unlikely to disappear as long as his financial affairs remain as opaque as they have been thus far.

The ethical questions that have been raised about the Trump presidency – regarding the president’s connection with Russia and his business interests – are not trivial. It is self-evident that undocumented ties to Russia, whether they involve undisclosed ‘deals’ or even blackmail (as has been suggested by some quarters), would have a bearing on the president’s policy choices and decisions, and the maintenance of extensive commercial interests simply flings the door wide open for nepotism and corruption. However, while it is far from certain that America’s vaunted system of democratic checks and balances will be able to properly investigate all of these allegations and undertake any measures that might eventually be required to ensure accountability, at least it can be said that there is an interest in exploring these matters and a very real chance that President Trump will ultimately be forced to pay a political price for all of this.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about Pakistan, where the insular and non-transparent way in which decisions are taken by the government means it is virtually impossible to gauge the extent to which conflicts of interest, of the sort currently under investigation in the United States, continue to shape public policy. One does not have to look far to find cause for concern in the Land of the Pure; take, for example, the debate that has currently erupted over the reported appointment of former General Raheel Sharif as the head of the so-called ‘Islamic Military Alliance’ founded by Saudi Arabia. Putting to one side questions about the exact structure and nature of this organisation, which remain nebulous and undefined, much of the debate regarding General Sharif’s appointment has rightly revolved around the question of whether it is wise for Pakistan to become so directly involved with an organisation that will be intrinsically connected to the volatile and often sectarian politics of the Middle East.

What also needs to be considered, however, is the precise process through which the general’s appointment was solicited, considered and approved. After all, taking up this post has required General Sharif to obtain clearance from the government and while this was recently granted, there is reason to believe that discussions about this affair have been taking place at the highest echelons of the government and military establishment for some time, possibly even when General Sharif was still in office as the Chief of Army Staff. Given the way in which the leadership of the PML-N. particularly the Sharif brothers, have long had close personal connections with the Saudi royal family (and other Middle Eastern monarchs), there is a question to be asked regarding the extent to which the government’s willingness to entertain a Saudi request for General Sharif’s appointment might have been partly influenced by these informal ties. While there might be perfectly justifiable reasons of state for acquiescing to the appointment of General Sharif as the head of this new military alliance, the opaqueness of the decision-making process, and the existence of a context in which a conflict of interest could exist, raises important ethical concerns about policymaking in Pakistan.

Looking beyond the murky world of international relations, conflicts of interest are not difficult to find in Pakistan’s domestic politics. It is well-known that financial disclosures made by candidates competing in elections are usually completely and totally fraudulent; while a small number of honourable exceptions provide detailed information on their assets and tax payments, the vast majority insult the intelligence of the electorate by constantly claiming that they are part of the most economically deprived and marginalised segments of society. That their claims of not possessing any wealth might be contradicted by their penchant for travelling in convoys of expensive vehicles carrying private security is clearly lost on them. However, while the maintenance of business and other professional interests while holding elected office is not necessarily problematic (MPs in the United Kingdom, for example, are given considerable leeway to do so), this requires the existence of strict mechanisms for oversight that ensure elected representatives do not neglect their duty to their constituents and also do not encounter any conflicts of interest that might affect their actions as public officials. The lack of such means of accountability in Pakistan ensures that corruption and nepotism continue unabated from the top to the very bottom of the political hierarchy.