Ethics and our political leaders | By Tariq Aqil


Ethics and our political leaders

STORIES of corruption loot and plunder of our political leaders since the last seventy five years boggles the mind and some stories appear to be straight out of some crime fiction novel.

The latest mind boggling episode in the sordid saga of corruption is the Toshakhana saga. The alleged sale of a watch and some other gifts by the crown prince of Saudi Arabia to the former Prime Minister Imran Khan is making headlines at home and abroad.

Toshakhana is the local name of the store house where gifts received by the political or military leaders are held for safe custody and ultimate disposal according to the laws of the land.

This term has not been very familiar in our political history but recently it has been the top story in the media and has become the favourite topic of our TV talk shows.

The ongoing fierce debate about the ethical standards of our top political leadership taking away and selling extremely expensive gifts received by them after paying a nominal paltry amount on the discounted price assessed by govt.

officials and then selling them in the world market at astronomical profits has finally drawn the attention of the public and the media.

Ethics and integrity of character are values seldom recognized as essential traits for leadership in Pakistan.

Ethics seems to be a simple matter, but it is fairly complicated in real terms. For the Toshakhana affair, for example, we need to look a little beyond the law, the rules, and the regulations that have been put down in writing and also at the ethics of our leaders and the manner in which they act.

From an ethical point of view, purchasing a gift given by the head of a friendly country with long term ties with Pakistan and then selling it in the market at a much higher price as in the case of the watch sold by Imran Khan is unethical, rude and insulting to the donor.

The gory details of the watch are still being debated in the media but this definitely goes beyond simple corruption.

The former Prime Minister has been shouting from the roof tops about the corruption in our society and he has labelled all the political leaders of the country as corrupt and members of the loot and plunder mafia.

Imran Khan has been projected as Lilly white and free of the stigma of financial corruption but the recent affair of the sale of a gifted watch belie all such claims by the proponent of Riasat-i-Madina.

Top ranking political leaders are supposed to be role models and they set examples that future leaders should follow.

This nation has seen a rapid decline in ethics during the decade of the 70s and 80s when corruption became an accepted fact in the political and bureaucratic segments of the country.

The regime of PTI led by Imran Khan was supposed to be different but it proved to be a great disappointment in governance, efficiency rule of law and even in ethics and morality.

During the last seventy five years of our history we can give the example of only two past rulers who did not exploit the facility of the Toshahkhana for personal benefit and those two rulers are General Ayub Khan and Balkh Sher Mazari.

Here it will not be out of place to mention the case of the Indian Prime Minister Narender Modi who received gifts and had them auctioned for a sum of one hundred crores and this amount was given to a charity for oppressed women.

The non-Muslim ruler of India is a far better example than the champions of Islam and the proponents of Riasat-i-Madina.

Although the sordid game of benefitting from the Toshakhana and amassing huge profits is as old as the country itself but the details of all such transactions have been shrouded in layers and layers of secrecy and buried under the guise of national security.

It was only very recently that an investigative journalist took advantage of the right to information law tried to get details of the gifts received and retained by the former Prime Minister Imran khan.

His request was vehemently refused and the flimsy reason given by the stalwarts and cabinet ministers of the PTI govt.

was that this disclosure could adversely affect our relations with the countries which gave these gifts.

Islamabad high court directed the Govt. in April 2022 to provide the requested information but before that could happen the Imran Khan Govt. was toppled and replaced by the coalition govt. led by Shehbaz Sharif.

At the same it will not be fair to single out Imran Khan and not to mention the gifts receives and retained by other rulers and other high officials including civil servants and military leaders.

In the meantime, the information was leaked to the media that prime minister Imran Khan had not only retained some expensive gifts given to him by the Saudi crown prince by paying a nominal amount, according to the rules, but had also sold those gifts, pocketing a hefty profit.

In view of the recent disclosures thee is a great need for reformation and implementation of the Toshakhana system.

All these gifts are given to state officials and hence are the property of the state. We need a more stringent and sensible policy for the disposal of these gifts such as an open auction so that the proceeds of these auctions can be used for charity or public welfare.

——The writer is Professor of History, based in Islamabad.