Nawabzada Talal Bugti's recent allegations about corruption at the highest level in Pakistan's government brings back painful memories of last two People's Party lead governments in Pakistan.
Speed of Asif Ali Zardari's ascent to the highest office in Pakistan surprised a vast majority Pakistanis and, perhaps, him as well. His presidency is one of the biggest improbabilities in Pakistani politics - all credit to democracy. A man who was incarcerated for a number of years without due judicial process in Pakistan, convicted on corruption charges in Switzerland, and whose only claims to fame outside his home town were being married to Benazir Bhutto and for being known as the most corrupt political person in the short and chequered history of Pakistani politics. He was held responsible for the premature fall of Benazir Bhutto's government twice and had the dubious honour of getting himself promoted from the notoriety of being known as Mr. Ten Percent (kick backs to the tune of 10% on every contract awarded by the government) in her first term of office to Mr. Cent Percent in her second term in office. Right up to Benazir Bhutto's assassination he was considered to be a political liability for the Pakistan People's Party.
It turned out that years of political persecution had taught him a thing or two about Pakistani politics. His masterful handling of the political situation after Benazir's death presenting himself as a unifying interim national leader, seeking political alliances with sworn enemies, bringing down Musharraf's dictatorship and finally manoeuvring his way in the presidency was the pinnacle of his political career. I myself am among those people who have believed that to let the fledgling democracy in Pakistan the process should be allowed to run even if it means some of Zaradri's reputation to become the head of the state.
He has, however, not been able to (nor has he tried to) clear his name from the charges of being a dangerously corrupt person. National Reconciliation Ordinance promulgated by Musharraf regime that gave a blanket amnesty to Zardari and his cronies against any judicial process is still in place. There is a general belief in Pakistan that one reason donors and friendly governments have hesitated from providing any economic aid to Pakistan is primarily due to doubts about the moral integrity of president Zardari himself.
Background to Talal Bugti's allegations is as follows: Bugti family in the province of Baluchistan owns the land where some of Pakistan's gas fields are situated. Under an agreement with the government of Pakistan, Nawab Akbar Bugti’s family are supposed to get Rs 360 million every year royalties against 4,500 acres of land given to the Oil and Gas Development Corporation of Pakistan. According to Mr. Bugti the government of Pakistan owes his family 2.16 billion rupees. Bugti Family has not been paid these royalties for the last six years as a pressure ploy by the federal government because it blames them for aiding and abetting the ongoing insurgency in the Baluchistan province.
Nawabzada Talal Bugti alleges that he was approached by an assistant of the Minister of Interior, Rehman Malik (a Zardari henchman from his Mr. Ten Percent years) contacted him with a message from his "bosses" that “They are willing to pay me the outstanding dues (of about one billion rupees) but only after getting half of it either in advance or shortly following the release of the pending payment to my family. There is a chain from the president down to the governor and Rehman Malik who want to distribute the amount among themselves. Certainly, they will eat up Rs. 500 million.”
Mr. Bugti made these allegations in front of the national media a few days ago and there has been no denial from President Zardari himself and no intention of a public enquiry from the Prime Minister's office. General view among the public is that a leopard cannot change it spots and it was only a matter of time before the stories of current rampant corruption among the ministers of People's Party lead federal and provincial governments were going to lead right to the office of the President.
Since the restoration of independent judges lead by Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Chaudhry the judiciary has once again begun to take suo moto notice of violations of human rights and conduct of the government officials. Due to obvious reasons CJ Iftikhar Chaudhry would like to stay away from any course of action against President Zardari that can be construed as revenge or politically motivated. I wait to see that whether Prime Minister Gilani will show courage and take action to investigate Mr. Bugti's allegation and address the issue of corruption at the very heart of the government.