hen the Panama Leaks scandal took the world by storm, shaking the very foundations of politics in Pakistan, there was widespread criticism that ‘selective accountability’ is afoot. It was argued – primarily by PML(N) loyalists – that the revelations by ICIJ, and the ensuing proceedings of the honorable Supreme Court of Pakistan, were part of some ‘conspiracy’ to target the Sharif family (alone). That somehow, it was all part of a scheme, hatched by the ‘invisible establishment’, to bring about regime-change in Pakistan. And that the mantra of accountability was just a sham – aimed only at targeting the Sharif family, who had fallen out of favor with the omnipresent establishment.

No one, at the time, believed that the drive for financial accountability (of the rich and powerful) will extend beyond the gates of PML(N), and into the far reaches of PPP, PTI, and other pillars of the status quo. No one believed that Jehangir Tareen would get disqualified for life. No one thought that people like Hussain Lawai and Anwar Majeed would ever be behind bars.

An honest assessment of the events, over the past two years, would reveal that institutions such as NAB and the FIA cannot (alone) be credited with resuscitating the process of accountability in our country. After all, for several decades, these institutions watched quietly from the sidelines while the national exchequer was emptied out to fill the coffers of the wealthy and the powerful. Individuals like Qamar Zaman Chaudhry (former Chairman NAB) and successive heads of the FIA, allowed political fiefdoms to be constructed from syphoned money, without once raising a finger to object. In fact, it was not till CJ Saqib Nisar led Supreme Court took cognizance of these matters, that the NAB and FIA were awoken from their slumber. And gradually, over the past two years, a much-awaited realization has started to set in: that no individual, or political party, or landed wadera, is beyond the reaches of law.

Prior to the 2018 elections, the critics of this accountability drive (mostly supports of Nawaz Sharif) were quick to construct a narrative of ‘selective accountability’. They argued that hundreds of Pakistani names were mentioned in Panama Leaks; why was Sharif family alone the target of investigations? Instead of arguing for the innocence of Nawaz Sharif, they asked why Asif Zardari was not being hauled in for questioning? After all, we all ‘know’ that Zardari’s money was certainly unclean. Why had the honorable Supreme Court not focused on him? The court was just being biased, they said. The honorable judges were acting as pawns in the hands of the anti-Nawaz establishment, they concluded.

In the post-election scenario, this narrative has proven to be entirely inaccurate. True to its claims of ‘across the board accountability’, the honorable Court (and other institutions of the State) have turned their gaze towards Sindh. Anwar Majeed, the de facto warden of Sindh, finds himself behind bars. His sons, who wielded enough power to appoint provincial ministers and reshuffle bureaucracy, are now hauled-in as common criminals. Fake accounts, opened by close associates of Asif Zardari, are being discovered in banks owned by PPP loyalists. Investigations have revealed that billions of Rupees have been looted through such accounts. Much more has been laundered in the form of cash, through fishing boats. Sharjeel Memon & Co. no longer enjoy the same VIP protocol in private hospitals owned by Zardari’s associates. Shahrukh Jatoi, despite all of his father’s wealth and influence, has been transferred to a death-row cell. His fancy toys and bottles of honey have all been confiscated. Individuals within the jail administration, who facilitated this convict, have been removed from their respective jobs. Addi (Feryal Talpur) and Asif Zardari himself, have had to get pre-arrest bail, just to be able to walk around free. Nisar Morai is in custody. Manzoor Kaka is on the run. And this is just the appetizer… because individuals such as Uzair Baloch are yet to be revealed… if only to discover the true meaning of “Half-Fry” and “Full-Fry”.

As this inevitable drive for accountability sweeps across Sindh, there is fresh talk of Zardari joining hands with the Sharifs. And the news media, obsessed with political haggling, is making this out to be a real threat for the incumbent government and – what is worse – for the institutions of Pakistan.

Let us tackle the political issue first: even if Fazl-ur-Rehman is able to bring Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari on the same political table, adding their respective numbers in the Parliament, it is unlikely that the PTI government would fall. The numbers just do not add up. Even in the extreme eventuality that the government does fall, the opposition political parties would not have the mandate to form their own government. And nothing short of that is likely to alleviate their accountability woes.

Carrying the argument forward, if the opposition political parties come together to oust the incumbent government, will that mean that suddenly the honorable Supreme Court will back down? That NAB will just go back to its eternal slumber? Will the FIA and our subordinate courts simply roll over and die? Will the people of Pakistan, aided by a robust private media, suddenly forget about all the killings in Sindh, the China-cutting, the Avenfield apartments, off-shore companies, and the martyrs of Model Town? What will happen if Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman forms a government, through some alliance of PML(N) and PPP? Will that stop the process of accountability? Will such a government legalize money laundering in our country? Will it legalize the murder of Shahzeb Khan? Will it abolish the judicial structure?

Of course not.

The ongoing drive for accountability is irreversible. It will envelop individuals from all political parties and their associates (including the PTI). Because once you have come out of the cave, crossed the field, and seen fire… there is no way to go back into the cave again.

Just as importantly, it needs to be asked: what impetus is bringing these opposition parties to one table? Is it political opposition to the PTI government? Is it some ideological disagreement with PTI’s policies? Is it some desire to implement a different public-centric governance model? Or is it, instead, simply a desire of the status quo to protect its wealth and escape the process of accountability, riding into the sunset with looted public money?

Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari cannot be blamed for adopting all measures (including the possibility of a political alliance) for protecting their wealth and escaping the grasp of accountability. They have every right to employ the tool at their disposal. But the rest of us should stop pretending that this whispered alliance is anything other than an effort to escape legal punishment. We should stop projecting it as a political tussle, and instead recognize it as the dying efforts of a status quo that is about to crumble under its own weight.

The sooner we recognize this distinction, the better off we will be in making a choice as to which side we support.


The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has an LL.M. in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School.