On Monday, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) arrested the Pakistan People’s Party’s (PPP) co-chairman and former president, Asif Ali Zardari, after the Islamabad High Court recalled his pre-arrest bail in a corruption case.
A number of recent arrests have created a very interesting situation when it comes to the country’s politics. On the one hand, the government is under a lot of pressure to contain the mounting fiscal deficit which the ruling party blames on the economic policies of the previous two governments. On the other hand, the current government is focused on pursuing corruption cases against the leadership of a number of mainstream political parties. Already, a number of leaders from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) are facing long prison terms on corruption charges.
Arguably, the government is frustrated over its constrained ability to invest in socio-economic areas which were part of its electoral agenda. In this regard, the government places the blame squarely on the previous government for the current economic meltdown. Much of this has become clear from the government’s recently announced federal budget for the next fiscal year. While the government has tried to route the available resources to all important institutions and sectors, the focus on introducing serious austerity measures to increase the collection of taxes is reflective of the pressure on the ruling party currently. Almost all major economic targets were missed by the outgoing government, which spent huge amounts of money on policies to focus on winning last year’s general election. This has had a direct impact on the current government’s ability to implement its economic policy.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Imran Khan in a nationwide address said that “I’m making a high-powered inquiry commission with a one-point agenda: how did they raise the debt to Rs. 24,000 billion in 10 years?” He further declared that the “pressure [to stabilize the economy] has been relieved. Now I will go after them [the corrupt politicians].”
At this point, it’s unclear if the opposition has an ability to effectively target the government to escape looming pressure. In my recent article at this space, I argued that the opposition parties don’t have enough support base to mobilize masses to an extent where the government may feel threatened about its survival. Arguably, after the recent arrests, which are likely to expand in the coming weeks, the opposition’s ability to launch a protest campaign against the government is going to be constrained further. In fact, it is likely that the opposition may completely give up on the idea of launching a mass movement against the government as it doesn’t have the political support to execute this encounter successfully.
The emerging political trends in the country highlight a growing realization in policy-making circles that corruption is one of the biggest threats to Pakistan’s stability. While it has been argued that the ongoing arrests and accountability campaign may create political instability in the country, it’s entirely possible that Khan may end up creating history with the country’s political elite made answerable for the money they looted. It’s important to note that Khan has also vowed to go after corrupt politicians that are part of the current government. To an extent, this puts to rest the accusations that the ongoing accountability campaign is only targeting the leadership of the opposition parties.
At this point, it’s unclear if the government has put the NAB under pressure to aggressively pursue high profile corruption cases. What is clear is this: the NAB has had the direct support of all major state institutions when it comes to going after high profile cases that have previously evaded justice. Regardless of the NAB’s action, it cannot be denied that the leadership of the PPP and PML-N have either been directly complicit in a number of mega corruption scandals or have indirectly facilitated such actions. Clearly, the government and the opposition parties are headed for a collision with the latter blaming the party in power for allegedly victimizing them. However, if Khan continued his policy of bringing accountability to the country’s political elite and politics, a lot can change for the country, which will have a positive impact on Pakistan’s economy in the long run.