OVER A COFFEE: Obituary of accountability —Dr Haider Shah
The decision of the government to repost an officer who had earlier been removed on the orders of the SC only further strengthens the perception that in Pakistan all are equal but some are more equal
Writing a column for a Pakistani newspaper is a very challenging task. Not because there is a dearth of topics; it is difficult because events unfold with such an electrifying speed that a topic chosen in the morning is made redundant in the evening by a new story. At times, in the span of just a few days, many events clamour for your attention and it becomes very difficult to pick one and leave others. Since last Saturday I first thought of writing about the killing spree in Karachi. Then the melodrama created by Dr Zulfiqar Mirza overtook the Karachi carnage in terms of news worthiness. In Lahore, the news of Shahbaz Taseer’s abduction in broad daylight also demanded attention. However, it was a relatively less attention grabbing item that prompted me to write this piece: the reappointment of D G Rangers Ijaz Chaudhry by the federal government!
In one of my previous pieces, I had stated that the principle of accountability is not only the thread that holds a modern democracy together but, even in ancient Athens, accountability of public office holders was the foundation. For instance, once a year, ordinary citizens would hold an ‘ostracism’ by writing on a fragment of pottery the names of unpopular officers and the majority voted public official would then go into exile for 10 years. The practice was aimed at creating some degree of deterrence for public officials against becoming highly unpopular with the common citizens. There were many more elaborate legal and institutional arrangements for operationalising the accountability of all wielders of power. For instance, under dokimasia and euthynai, obligatory scrutiny trials took place when an official left office. Similarly, being obsessed with result oriented performance, the ancient Athenians viewed with extreme displeasure failures of all sorts, whatever the causes might have been. Therefore, a lost war or a failed diplomatic mission would result in severe punishments including death for generals or diplomats.
In more recent times, we have seen the sacking of Defence Minister Sergei Sokolov and the head of the Soviet Air Defence, Chief Marshal Alexander Koldunov when, in 1987, a German amateur aviator, Mathias Rust, illegally flew from Finland and landed his small plane near Red Square in Moscow. Mistaken for a friendly aircraft, it was not shot down by the Soviet fighters. US President Obama also did not wait for a minute to recall General McChrystal from the war front in Afghanistan when the general expressed his views in public and thus breached the oath of remaining subservient to his civilian superiors. As is often said about justice, ‘accountability’ also needs to be across the board, prompt, decisive and must be seen to be done.
In June this year a young man, Sarfaraz Shah, whilst begging for his life was killed by Rangers personnel in Karachi. The video of the cold blooded murder shocked the nation and the Supreme Court (SC) had to take suo motu notice of this incident after the government started dragging its feet — as it has been doing in all cases where uniformed men are involved. The SC then ordered the removal of D G Rangers Major General Ijaz Chaudhry and IGP Sindh Police Fayyaz Leghari. After some reluctance, both officers were removed from their posts by their respective authorities. Personally, I drew some consolation that, for the first time, the principle of ‘across the board accountability’ had been laid down in the realm of public policy in Pakistan. Like the departing spring, the consolation also proved short lived. A news ticker on my TV screen on August 28 suddenly revealed that Major General Ijaz, who was removed as DG Rangers Sindh on the orders of the SC, had been re-posted as D G Rangers Sindh.
Already the uncanny stubbornness with which the naval chief had laughed out of court against the popular calls for his resignation or removal had strengthened the perception that, no matter what happens, uniformed officers are untouchables and, like the British monarch, they also are shielded by the legal maxim ‘the king can do no wrong’. The decision of the government to repost an officer who had earlier been removed on the orders of the SC only further strengthens the perception that in Pakistan all are equal but some are more equal. Whether a bridge constructed by uniformed men collapses within no time causing huge human losses or the organisation is allowed to become a seedbed for radical elements leading to a deadly attack on Mehran base, everything can be conveniently swept under the carpet of national interest. Since its creation, Pakistan has always been passing through a sensitive period — we are all used to hearing this. However, this sensitivity only applies to a certain category of public office holders though as elected prime ministers like Z A Bhutto or Nawaz Sharif can be hanged or handcuffed even in some of the most sensitive periods. All are equal but some are more equal.
In the high pitched drama created by thundering Zulfiqar Mirza, the news of flagrant disregard shown to the SC’s order failed to make headlines in the popular media. Recently, the government appointed an officer tainted with allegations as auditor general of Pakistan. It seems both the civilian and military establishment are running short of officers as they both resort to appointing tainted officers to sensitive posts. At least in this respect we can heave a sigh of relief that there is perfect harmony in the civil-military relationship these days. The SC took a determined stand against the disregard of its orders in the case of many civilian officers. It would be interesting to see how it reacts to the disregard of its removal order passed in June this year against the reposted D G Rangers. Maybe the doctrine of necessity has the calming effect as all are equal but some are more equal.
The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org