THE bigger they are the harder they fall. Yesterday was quite an embarrassing and also a dramatic day for the PPP-led set up when the Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar was caught by the FIA while scurrying into China through the Benazir International Airport in Islamabad. He did not know that his name was on the ECL; or perhaps on the pretext of the official visit to a friendly country to sign some defence agreement he though he would get away with the officials, whom he must have thought would hardly think of stopping him. Reportedly, Mr Mukhtar pulled ranks and threatened the FIA officials with consequences; but despite that he was not allowed to board the plane. There are a total of 248 individuals whose names have been put on the ECL. Interior Minister Rehman Malik, Farooq Sattar, Baber Ghauri are some of the big guns belonging to the ruling dispensation who have been barred from travelling abroad. Given the SC verdict against the NRO and the reopening of the criminal proceedings against the beneficiaries, there is little room left for the government to manoeuvre in terms of saving the skin of its top members like Rehman Malik and others except for offering resignations in an honourable manner. Need anyone tell the government that a number of them are absconders of law since their legal status before Oct 5 2007 has been revived? Already an accountability court in Karachi has issued the arrest warrants of Mr Malik. The Constitution states clearly that such individuals cannot hold public offices. However it is a crying shame that there is no indication from the present dispensation washing its hands off these folks. The tone and tenor of President Zardari's statement that though the government has reverence for the courts decision it is nonetheless ready to face the challenges conveys a sense of defiance. Granted he enjoys immunity under the Constitution, but since now the myth of the NRO as a legal umbrella for the so-called victims of politics of vendetta has been shattered, the President too should step down gracefully. The government's reaction does not inspire confidence. The elevation of Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan to the status of the Law Minister is quite sad in that it shows that the government's commitment to weed out the corrupt forces from its ranks is only half-hearted. Not only that. The question here is what is the Prime Minister Gilani waiting for when the court decisions are already there. Earlier he said that he was waiting for the judgement and would only then decide the fate of the ministers and government officials. Yet he continues to dither thanks to his confusion. It must be realised that in a democratic dispensation, it is the process, institutions and office, rather than individuals, who count. Indeed, if the corrupt elements are evicted it only adds to the strength of the system.