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DAWN Editorials – 26th March 2016

Accountability debate

POLITICIANS squabbling over accountability and trading accusations has become a familiar parliamentary game once again.

On Thursday, perhaps encouraged by the antics of their more senior colleagues in recent days, parliament’s ‘Young Turks’ decided to excoriate the National Accountability Bureau.

A junior PPP MNA, Imran Zafar Leghari, initiated a so-called debate in the National Assembly by tearing into NAB for its activities in Sindh.

While nothing specific was said or asked, Mr Leghari saw fit to brand NAB as little more than a powerful blackmailing organisation. That prompted a lament from the PTI’s controversial young MNA Murad Saeed along the lines of collusion between the PML-N and PPP — a variation of the long-standing PTI accusation that somehow the PML-N and PPP have rigged the political system to their own advantage.

Smarting from a reference to the allegedly rigged 2002 election, former prime minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali waded in only to go further back in history and remind the Assembly of the tit-for-tat accountability between the PPP and PML-N in the 1990s.

Perhaps Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid was more even-handed in his criticism and grudging praise of NAB, but the minister’s comments ultimately only underscored the desultoriness of the debate in parliament.

Nowhere was there any discussion of the meaningful aspects of accountability or how to create a more transparent, but powerful accountability body.

Unhappily, that appears to suit all parties at the moment. For the PPP, attacking the accountability bureau helps deflect attention from the endless stream of corruption allegations in Sindh.

For the PTI, whose anti-corruption mantra has not quite translated into robust legislative measures in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or meaningful suggestions in parliament, attacking the PML-N remains the priority and perhaps only goal.

For the PML-N, troubled by a reinvigorated NAB — sections of which appear more responsive to the demands of other institutions than of the political government — the recent focus has been on undermining the body’s credibility in the public arena.

Both in its present phase of activity and its history and structure, NAB is a deeply flawed organisation. The perception that accountability investigations are either being guided by hidden hands or that NAB is flexing its muscles in a populist manner has grown in recent months.

Reform and restructuring are needed — or perhaps an entirely new organisation needs to be sanctioned by parliament. Yet, parliament appears paralysed.

The accusations traded in parliament on Thursday perhaps reflect a dismal reality: having failed for years to take accountability reforms seriously, politicians have ceded space to non-democratic elements. It is still not too late to salvage the situation.

Across-the-board accountability, for all institutions, equally and transparently can be effected.

The political class will be strengthened by such a move as it will suggest willingness for corrupt elements to be purged from within its ranks. But is parliament willing and able to act in an enlightened manner?

‘Pilgrimage’ to AIPAC

A NEWS agency used perhaps the most appropriate word when it said that Donald Trump, too, would make a ‘pilgrimage’ to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee to counter what his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, had said at the same forum earlier.

Before this all-important ‘pilgrimage’ to the AIPAC, the Republican demagogue had said in a talk show what in America, especially in an election year, amounts to blasphemy — that the US should be neutral on the Arab-Israeli issue.

Ms Clinton had amends to make as well, for the Israel lobby is angry with the White House’s Democratic incumbent over the Iran nuclear deal. The Democratic hopeful lambasted Mr Trump for his remarks, said the US couldn’t be neutral on the Arab-Israeli issue, declared “we must take our alliance to the next level”, and demanded that the US arm the Israeli military “with the most sophisticated defence technology”.

In turn, when Mr Trump finally spoke at the AIPAC, he did an even better job at winning over hearts and minds there and was cheered when he said President “Obama may be the worst thing to ever happen to Israel, believe me, believe me”.

As always, there is stiff competition between the two parties regarding who bends over backwards more to please and impress the AIPAC — the AIPAC with its media and money; the AIPAC with many in Congress in its pocket; the AIPAC whose allegedly chosen neo-cons run American policy in the Middle East.

No wonder, an American veto is always there to pre-empt any Security Council resolution that censures Israel for its war crimes and crimes against humanity — now in Lebanon, now in Gaza.

The cumulative effect of Washington’s categorical support to the Jewish state has led to a widespread distrust of America among the Palestinian and Arab peoples, fuelling anger in Muslim populations and providing fodder to extremist groups to promote violence and their own anti-West agenda.

Israel has also cleverly used 9/11 to delegitimise the Palestinian people’s struggle for freedom and has, with America’s tacit approval, continued building settlements on the West Bank with a view to annexing it.

As a result, America’s participation in any ‘war on terror’ invites scepticism if not ridicule in the Middle East. Only the future can tell whether any American president will show the same courage in dealing with the Palestinian question as President Obama did on the Iranian deal.

Stalled devolution

DESPITE all the talk of devolution and empowering the federating units, when it comes to devolving power to the third tier, our political parties are notoriously territorial.

Take the example of Sindh, where the ruling PPP seems to be in no mood to have empowered municipal bodies in place in the province’s urban centres, particularly Karachi.

During Tuesday’s Sindh Assembly session, the PPP used its majority in the house to vote down a motion introduced by an MQM member to give oversight of the Lyari Development Authority to the city mayor instead of provincial ministers.

A similar bill related to the Karachi Development Authority was also rejected in the house. As one senior Muttahida lawmaker put it, preventing the devolution of powers to the local bodies was in violation of the Constitution’s Article 140-A.

The Sindh government, especially under the PPP’s successive provincial administrations starting from 2008, has steadily chipped away at the powers of the local bodies.

PPP leaders, critical of Musharraf-era LG laws, have said provincial oversight of civic affairs is necessary to maintain a ‘balance of power’ between the province and local governments.

While there can be little argument with the fact that all levels of government — from the federal to the ward and union council level — need checks and balances, there is no justification for the micromanagement of city and town affairs by the provincial administration.

The provinces have been vocal — in most instances rightly — about perceived interference by the centre in provincial affairs. Therefore, how can interference in municipal affairs by provincial officials be justified? Blocking laws that try to empower elected municipal leaders is akin to punishing the people.

The PPP should reconsider its attitude, especially considering the party’s struggle for devolution.

On the MQM’s part, it is strange why the party has suspended its cleanliness drive in Karachi in protest over “state atrocities and raids and arrests”. Why should its public service efforts suffer due to the perceived high-handedness of the state?

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