“Darism”: Pakistan’s new moral code?

MUHAMMAD AZAM– Ishaq Dar, Pakistan’s Finance Minister, indicted by a court for corruption, finds himself increasingly alienated on national and international stage. He can no longer even represent Pakistan on international financial scene – as global institutions like IMF and World Bank are not prepared to welcome him in their meetings. Yet he shamelessly continues in office, in Islamabad.

Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, this week, had to fill in for finance minister Dar, as Pakistan’s envoy to the annual IMF and World Bank meetings in Washington. Due to rules at the IMF and World Bank, Dar, is not allowed to attend the meetings because of the corruption charges against him. Dar is facing trial, in Accountability Court Islamabad, for serious discrepancies between his known income and assets.

It is obvious that the Supreme Court ordered trial has incapacitated Dar as Finance Minister. Yet, PML-N stalwarts betray no hint of discomfort over having a compromised individual in charge of the nation’s economic welfare. Islamabad rumor mills whisper that PM Khakkan Abbassi was reluctant in taking Dar into his cabinet but was given a shut up call by his master: Nawaz Sharif. Ex-premier himself faces corruption charges in the same court, and is trying to dodge his indictment.

Pakistan has no tradition of resignations from public office. But Ishaq Dar’s peculiar position has even stunned Pakistanis – who now need a new “moral code” to define this bizarre situation. Despite facing infuriated demands for his resignation from all segments of media, political opposition, civil society, Bar Associations, and now from international donors, Dar still appears to be adamant on clinging to his office for the full length of his term.

For the past six months, political commentators and TV anchors have shouted themselves hoarse while pointing out, to no avail, the hypocrisy of the ruling party who claim to be the gatekeepers of democracy, and yet, continue to act in open contempt of the values that constitute a democratic system.

Difference between Pakistan and western democracies

One is forced to ask: How can individuals like Dar continue to act in utter disregard of international norms, ethics and morality while holding public office?

In western democratic states, and by and large across the world, public office holders are considered accountable to a higher moral code which in a way is an uncodified aspect of the law. Conventions – in Britain and across western democracies – which are not enforced by courts but which are nevertheless upheld by the officials of state institutions play an important role in the smooth governance of the state. These conventions preserve the finer traits of the moral code which acts as a foundation for the state’s law.

There are innumerable instances in recent history where politicians in democratic nations have had to resign over scandals that are petty and innocuous when compared to those currently surrounding PML-N’s senior leadership. British Home Secretary David Blunkett had to resign after he was accused of fast-tracking a work permit for his girlfriend’s nanny. This would be considered strange or ridiculous by most Pakistanis. For a Pakistani MNA – this is his remit – the very minimum his electors would expect from him and a lot more including providing them with ‘unmerited’ jobs if needed.

Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, Iceland’s Prime Minister stepped aside after the Panama Papers revealed that his wife had an off-shore company in the British Virgin Islands (unlike the Sharif’s, the money was traceable and proven to be acquired through legitimate means).

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, MD IMF, was forced to resign from the IMF after charges of sexual misconduct were leveled against him by a maid in a New York Hotel. He was considered a presidential candidate in France; his career came to an end. He was later exonerated by courts. But Pakistan’s Finance Minister who faces not only allegations but is being tried for corruption by an accountability court, point-blank refuses to even consider stepping down temporarily while he faces trial.

What then is “Principle of Darism”?

World still remembers Charles Darwin for his provocative thesis for the origin of man. But Pakistanis can take comfort that their finance minister and his supporters are also giving something “ridiculous” to the world: though a bit shameful. A crucial insight can be gleaned from the attitude of this class: Ishaq Dar and his peers – starting from ex-premier Nawaz Sharif – consider public office to be an endlessly broad license to rule without challenge. In Dar’s mind, questions of ethics cannot challenge the might of the public’s mandate. And this in a country where elections are shamelessly rigged and manipulated and no government agency entrusted with holding elections has any credibility.

In essence, the principle of Darism can be defined as: being elected to public office grants the officeholder with the absolute power of a medieval monarch who cannot be bound by any moral or ethical code.

It remains to be seen if the force of public opinion, the outcry from the media, and pressure from the opposition will be successful in ultimately forcing the Finance Minister to resign. Will the courts hasten the process of accountability which often takes decades when powerful politicians are involved? Or will Darism be allowed to reign supreme forever?


(The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of PKonweb)

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