Opposition leader Imran Khan waves to supporters at a celebration rally after the Pakistani Supreme Court disqualified prime minister Nawaz Sharif from office, in Islamabad on July 30, 2017. Photo: Reuters / Faisal Mahmood
Imran Khan waves to supporters at a celebration rally after the Pakistani Supreme Court disqualified prime minister Nawaz Sharif from office, in Islamabad on July 30, 2017. Photo: Reuters / Faisal Mahmood

The “accountability” drive in Pakistan that started with the ouster of prime minister Nawaz Sharif was always a farce, and time has proved that its only purpose was to remove Sharif and his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) from power.

From convicting Sharif and his aides in controversial and hasty judicial decisions to putting the likes of Maryam Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif behind bars without anything being established against them, it was always about Imran Khan and his backers settling political scores with the PML-N.

The latest revelations of the retired director general of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Bashir Memon, regarding how Prime Minister Imran Khan tried to pressure him to charge Maryam, Khawaja Asif, and Justice Qazi Faez Isa perhaps were no surprise for those who have covered the proceedings of the accountability courts.

However, for the masses, a former DG-FIA going on a national television channel and accusing the sitting prime minister of pressuring him to book his political opponents in fabricated cases was nothing less than a bombshell.

Memon, who enjoyed a good reputation during a long career of serving in the police and FIA, took early retirement as a protest against the “accountability” witch-hunt and cited the reason as undue pressure from Khan and his aides to arrest opposition members.

Memon has retracted his statement regarding Khan asking him to file a case against Isa, but remained firm that he was asked to book PML-N members.

Though Imran Khan and his aides have denied the allegations, mere protestations in the media and sending a defamation notice to Memon will not bury this issue.

These are very serious allegations, and more so as they have been leveled by the former head of a top law-enforcement agency. This calls for a judicial probe on a speedy basis.

There is no secret about how Nawaz Sharif was disqualified and convicted in haste to keep his party from winning the 2018 general election. However, the corruption accusations backfired, as not even a single charge was proved against Sharif, his daughter Maryam, or any of their alleged accomplices.

Likewise, Isa has prevailed and silenced his detractors in court. However, the question is how the tool of accountability that is used to silence dissenting voices can be eliminated from the already fragile political discourse of the country.

Whenever a military dictator imposes direct or indirect martial law, he uses the slogan of accountability against his opponents, but historically we have seen that only those with political views dissenting from the establishment or its puppet political parties are held accountable or declared traitors.

This has been the case since the era of General Ayub Khan, and this witch-hunt is still going on under the current hybrid regime. Though the military establishment has distanced itself from the accountability witch-hunt and now it is only Khan and his close aides who are still trying to settle political scores with their opponents, the question is, who will restore the credibility of the accountability courts, and who will be held responsible for sending politicians to jail for no reason but to rig the political discourse?

In fact, the propaganda that was supported by the establishment and a section of controlled media not only resulted in the character assassination of Sharif and his aides, but it also sent the country into self-inflicted political and economic turmoil.

For instance, Sharif was disqualified for not declaring income that the court at that time assumed he was taking from his son’s company. Likewise, Ishaq Dar, the finance minister of the PML-N government, was booked for not filing proper income-tax returns.

These cases themselves constituted a mockery of the system and the judicial institutions, as a thrice-elected prime minister was not accused of embezzlement of any public funds but of receiving an imaginary salary, while Dar, who played a major role in economic reforms and raised the annualized growth of the country’s economy to 5.28%, was a regular filer of income-tax returns, and anyone could have checked them using the Internet.

But the invisible forces and Imran Khan both at that time were in a hurry to get rid of Sharif and his PML-N and to grab power. Memon has only confirmed the tale of Khan and his backers who in a bid to oust Sharif have damaged the economy and polarized the political discourse.

Memon also reiterated that Imran Khan asked him to book Khawaja Asif in a treason case and to book Maryam Nawaz in a terrorism case. This actually tells a lot about the mindset of Khan and his backers, a mindset that at any cost likes to retain power and does not tolerate opposition or dissent.

Though the establishment is no longer interested in carrying on the accountability witch-hunt, this does not mean that the military bigwigs who were involved in the malicious propaganda campaign against Sharif and his elected government should be spared.

Memon’s allegations are limited to Imran Khan, but to restore the country to normalcy a judicial commission needs to be formed that can question the people from the invisible quarters on their alleged role in first destabilizing the elected Sharif government and then rigging the political discourse in the name of accountability.

This “accountability” farce has only installed the inept government of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) at the helm of affairs, a regime that beyond bashing political opponents and dissenting journalists and judges knows nothing about governance.

The recent European Parliament resolution on reviewing Pakistan’s GSP+ status in view of its blasphemy laws and human-rights violations is another fiasco on the foreign front caused by the PTI government and its backers.

Had the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) not been created by the powerful quarters to play the religious card against the PML-N and to reduce its vote bank, the recent protests against the French ambassador would not have taken place and Pakistan would not have been confronted with another awkward situation in Europe.

These are the crimes that actually need to be thoroughly investigated – who created the TLP, who secured hasty decisions from the courts to convict anti-establishment leaders, who put the country into economic turmoil, and who termed Sharif a traitor when he talked about correcting his own house first and tried to form friendly ties with neighboring countries, especially India.

So now is the time that Maryam and her aides should file a petition in the court, at least on the basis of Memon’s revelations. This vicious circle of accountability witch-hunts needs to be stopped, as it only results in misery for the country and benefits a few in the invisible quarters and their puppet political parties.

Memon’s revelations are not the end, as with the passage of time many other people will come forward and publicly state that the entire purpose of the “accountability” campaign was to target Sharif and his party. But the point is, who is going to hold those who orchestrated this one-sided accountability drive responsible? Will fearless judges like Isa come forward, or will it take another term for Sharif to see the culprits in court?

Sharif lodged a treason case against the ex-dictator Pervez Musharraf for abrogating the constitution, so he may again show some spine and bring the real culprits of the accountability drama before a court of law. This time, however, the courts should hold every single individual responsible who was involved in the manufactured propaganda, accountability witch-hunt, and rigging political discourse.

Bringing the facts and truth before the public will reveal a tale of sheer opportunism and serving vested interests at the cost of the country by the invisible forces and this hybrid regime.

Imad Zafar is a journalist and columnist/commentator for newspapers. He is associated with TV channels, radio, newspapers, news agencies, and political, policy and media related think-tanks.