Project democracy is once again stumbling and politics is echoinga la 1990’s. Before its harbingers convince everybody that it is at the verge of plunging into oblivion, someone has to put the project accountability in context.

History is witness to the fact that every time a democratic dispensation became too much to handle, project accountability was brought in to ‘save the state’. This has been one common denominator of all the accountability, which to the best part of Pakistan’s life has been thoroughly selective. This selectiveness was not, if it may be reminded, in terms of civil-military equation only. It was about good politicians-bad politicians too. Good being those manageable and willing to be utilized.

Even before the turbulent times that democracy saw in 1990s, it was 1977 when the dictator raised the slogan: Pehlay Ehtasaab, Phir Intikhaab (First Accountability, then Elections). His administration tried its best to dig out some kind of ‘corruption’ that Bhuttomight have done. When failed, it was resolved that the definition of corruption be broadened to include election fraud of which Bhutto was seemingly guilty.

Before that, Pakistan had seen ‘ehtasaab’ (accountability) in the form of 1949’s Public Representatives Disqualification Act (PRODA) and later in 1958, another draconian Elected Bodies Disqualification Order (EBDO). Both of these were brought as part of ‘ehtasaab’ of corrupt and ‘anti-state’ politicians of the time.

These laws were mainly designed to eradicate corruption, but as a matter of fact, were used by the ruling elite to remove ‘problematic’ politicians, i.e., everyone who it did not approve of.

Fast forward to 1999, Musharraf came as savior of the fateful nation that was crumbling under the ‘corrupt politicians’ who were ruling the country and yes, who were not doing any ehtasaab! The savior installed a technocrat ‘clean’ cabinet, which worked for around two years to design a clean system of governance and overhaul the constitution to allow ‘corruption-free’ and controlled democracy. Come 2002,when the election seasonset in. Willing politicians were picked up from the available political landscape to form a friendly alliance that was chosen to rule using the garb of elections and democracy.

A thing or two can be learned about those elections from Mr. Musharraf’s book in which he describes what was his planning about Imran Khan when he ‘gave’ a seat to him. Needless to reiterate that the chosen ones, who were not clean either, were whitewashed by putting all the corruption cases against them under the carpet. More cases were made against the leaders of two mainstream parties in addition to those made by each of them against each other.

Now, the only corruption cases being heard were against the ‘problematic’ politicians and all those who became part of the ‘democracy’ whether as ruling alliance or the opposition benches, were either removed or buried under red tapes.

Politics cleaned!

Come down to 2007 and comes NRO under which those willing to shake hand were given amnesty from corruption and other charges. Politics cleaned once again.

This is how project accountability has been run in this country. No wonder, whenever there was a mention of accountability; the antennae of the incumbent governments got invariably instituted. Accountability was the dagger that had been constantly in use for settling the scores and stabbing them in back by the real power holders. Even when they came in ostensibly to ‘clean the system’ and do away with corruption, they used the slogan for immediate, selfish and shortsighted ends. Same was done by the politicians in 1990s.

In the peculiar situation of civil-military relations in Pakistan, the paranoia-infected politicians were quick to – and quite justifiably if you look at the history – conclude that project accountability was perhaps once again being launched to dwindle project democracy. It was easier to conclude especially in the backdrop of the usual suspects from media and intelligentsia screaming loud for accountability left, right and center followed by a passionate pro-accountability speech of the Chief.

The ‘chief passion’ was in turn followed by a leak about the ongoing process of accountability within the army, which has been an object of criticism for the lack thereof. The leak, as the claim goes, was just an innocent coincidence. And we have little reason to doubt the gentlemen. Coincidence it must be.

But as a matter of fact, timing is everything.

Looking at the past record, these innocent coincidences were quick to be put in perceived context and there it was – the great civil-military situation – whereby everything linked to accountability was actually a part of the conspiracy to dislodge the democracy.

The politicians, who have been in ‘governments-in-waiting’, grabbed the opportunity to weaken an already not-so-strong government. Thus we hear an unbearable noise of ‘accountability’ from all sides. PTI has now been joined by PPP in asking for Prime Minister’s resignation in order to hold true accountability. The gentlemen are keen to see across-the-board accountability with one exception: their accountability should remain in their own hands.

In the name of accountability however, everyone wants to treat the symptoms. De-install the individuals suspected of corruption. One doesn’t hear anything about causes, classification and remedies of corruption. No one is heard talking about a broad based system of in-built accountability that offers no prospects of being used selectively against the political opponents and that hits at the systemic causes with a mix and match of punitive and preventive measures.

Let alone the accountability model, there appears a total absence of any consensus on what exactly constitutes corruption. What is mostly meant by corruption is, graft and bribery, embezzlement, fraud, extortion and nepotism.

What are usually missed are clientelism, state capture and political rent seeking.

A political (by that token, a democratic) system that is standing on socially and politically accepted facets of clientelism and rent seeking we see prior to every election, can’t be cleaned with such shallow measures as extricating individuals from office. All political parties must know this. And if they still shy of talking on the real issues viz a viz accountability, something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

Doesn’t it worry you when even the party that defines its ‘ideology’ mainly as anti-corruption is devoid of the vision to hit at the root of the problem while earsplitting about the accountability?

Doesn’t it worry you when a party that thrives on victimhood based on what it calls its selective accountability, uses this slogan to remove the incumbent as sole solution of the bigger problem?

Doesn’t it worry you when the forerunners of across-the-board accountability can’t be asked to be accountable to the parliament for even the money they get from the exchequer?

Doesn’t it worry you when the incumbent that is prone to jeremiads that the accountability is being used to dislodge them, purports it as a conspiracy against democracy? That same democracy, which stands tall only if there is accountability and transparency ensured.

Well it worries me greatly that constituent of each party is totally sold out to the interpretations set by its leaders. Why don’t we see the real urge for everyone’s accountability irrespective of who you are? Why are people content with clientelism and rent seeking by politicians and state institutions?

We’ll decipher it some other time. Watch these pages.