By Samuel Baid
Anna Hazare’s fast unto death against corruption in India and the overwhelming support to it throughout the country has inspired some activists of the civil society in Pakistan to follow the same method to fight corruption in their country.
Two Pakistani activists have announced their intentions to start fast against corruption after Eid. Human Rights activists Ansar Burney told an Urdu newspaper on telephone in Delhi that his fast would be against corruption and terrorism. He said his would be a non-political campaign but politicians would be free to join it without their party flags and slogans.
Another person to go on fast against corruption is 68 year old Raja Jahangir Akhtar. His fast is scheduled to begin on September 12. He said he would follow Anna’s method, “If Anna Saheb decides on particular timeline and give Parliament a certain number of days to enact the law, I will also do the same” , he says.
Pakistan is ripe for an Anna type movement, especially after the advent of the present Pakistan People’s Party (PPP)-led government in 2008. In its annual report for 2009, the Transparency International (TI) said that corruption in Pakistan had gone up to Rs. 195 billion from Rs. 45 billion in 2006. It pointed to police, power and health as most corrupt. The TI keeps Pakistan among the top 10 most corrupt countries of the world. But 2009 report seems to have played down misery of the people caused by corruption in high places – civilian rulers and the military.
The government disclosed in June that 27 Members of Parliament had bank accounts abroad. Among them were Interior Minister Rahman Malik, who had assets and accounts in London, Minister for Ports and Shipping Babar Khan Ghauri, Speaker of the National Assembly Fehmida Mirza, Finance Minister Abdul Hafiz Sheikh, Communication Minister Arbab Alamgir and his wife Asma Arbab Alamgir. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s son Abdul Qadir Gilani is alleged to be a beneficiary of the notorious Hajji scam committed by the Hajj Minister and other high-ups.
In June this year, an attempt was made to open a bank account in the name of Prime Minister Gilani purportedly to collect donations for internally displaced persons rather than in the name of the Embassy or the government of Pakistan. Wikileaks, while disclosed this, said similar attempts were made in other countries, too.
Prime Minister Gilani, his son and many senior Federal Ministers are said to have played a suspicious role in the sensational multi-billion rupees scam in the National Insurance Company Limited (NICL). Additional Director General of Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Captain (rtd.) Zafar Ahmed Qureshi, who unearthed the scam while investigating this case, was suspended on the verbal orders of the Prime Minister. The Supreme Court quashed these orders and reinstated Qureshi. But he was prevented, on one excuse or the other, from resuming his investigation.
In the meantime, tax evasion has gone up highest ever. The World Bank says it has gone up from 69 per cent in 2008 to 79 per cent now. This is also the estimate of Pakistan’s Federal Board of Revenue (FBR). The Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP) found that the Interior Ministry could not produce any record or receipt of Rs. 515.51 million which was collected for issuing arms licenses. In its 2010-11 report, the AGP says that an astounding amount of Rs. 35 billion was either embezzled from the public kitty, or irregularly spent or paid or the official record of its use was simply missing.
An article in “The News” lists 20 similarities between Pakistan and Colombia. Both are havens for drug runners and terrorists and their armies depend on the United States, it said corruption and political instability are other similarities.
In addition to the civilian corruption, there is corruption in the Military. It is most notorious in land grabbing, grabbing of civilian jobs and of course, commission in weapon purchases. An article in “The News” points out that the expenditure over the salaries of three armed forces a day is equal to the amount spent on education in a month. On the salary of armed forces, the government spends Rs. 1.35 billion a day. On education it is only 3 lakh a day.
A study of the task force of the Planning Commission has emphasized on the need for education, especially technical education, vocational training and skill development of youth and workforce to tackle urban poverty. It said urban poverty was increasing and so was the gap between rich and poor leading to growing social instability and discontent among the people, especially in the young generation. The common man is a helpless victim of non-governance, lawlessness, injustice, the might-is-right culture, non-availability of essential goods and services, corruption, political instability, etc. these conditions ignite a people’s revolution. But in Pakistan, these conditions have existed in since the creation of the country without stirring even a province wide people’s upsurge.
The first people’s uprise saw was in Lahore in the mid-fifties but it was strictly sectarian against Ahmediyyas. General Ayub Khan’s military coup of 1958 was wrongly described by the Supreme Court as a “successful revolution”. The Awami League’s movement during 1967-71 was a Bengali nationalist movement for liberation from West Pakistan. The Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD)’s campaign during 1980-83 was against the military dictatorship of General Ziaul Haq. It started as a countrywide movement but was soon confined to rural Sindh. The lawyers’ agitations during 2007-09 were for the re-instatement of Supreme Court judges.
Those who want to start an Anna-like movement in Pakistan have two handicaps: one , Pakistan does not have an inspiring role model like Gandhi, two, Pakistan’s middle class is just building up. Above all a Gandhi like fast unto death may not go well with the Islamic mindset of the common man. Mr. Mohammad Ali Jinnah did not like Gandhi and did not believe in the philosophy of fast unto death.
Thus, Mr. Ansar Burney and Raja Jahangir Akhtar, who have announced their intentions to follow the Anna example in Pakistan, will have to work hard to Pakistanise the fast policy against corruption. This hard work will involve convincing of the media, especially the Urdu media, about the need to launch a movement against corruption. The media had played a major role in popularising the Anna movement. In Pakistan, a large section of the media may condemn fast against corruption as un-Islamic, prompted by the government, fundamentalists and other vested interests.