The obsession with the Saudi and Chinese anti-corruption models
Unaware of what awaited them in a few hours, these people went about their nightly routines. Outside their palaces and mansions, their private security personnel watched helplessly as official security forces marched inside. The few protesting elements that did spring up were promptly neutralized, and the requisite arrests were made. Some of the royal prisoners were kept under house arrest, others were taken to incarceration centers.
After the attempt to remove Shah Saud, this was the biggest political scandal to have unfolded in the desert Kingdom. Almost 500 famous names were arrested over the course of a week, and taken to the Ritz Carlton hotel. According to the famed British journalist and expert in Middle Eastern Affairs, David Hearst, these people, arrested on the orders of Prince Mohammad Bin Salman Bin Abdalaziz, (MBS) were subjected to merciless torture which left no mark on the faces and outward appearances of the famous prisoners. Yet, many of them had to be taken to the hospital in ambulances.
The goal was to extract information about the prisoners’ bank accounts. Those who had been loyal to the late Shah Abdullah were particular targets. The previous crown prince, Mohammad Bin Nayef was kept under house arrest and his assets were seized. The sons of Sultan Bin Abdalaziz were also arrested and their assets were frozen. One of the world’s richest men, Prince Walid Bin Talal, was also forced to give up money.
So sudden and unexpected was this ‘purge’ that even those who had their own personal jets could not fly out of the country in time. The unity among the royal family, long thought of as a vital component in keeping the Kingdom stable, was also not left intact but Prince Mohammad Bin Salman did not care. Before becoming the crown prince, he had once remarked that those involved in corruption, whether a prince or a minister, will not be spared. Immediately after becoming the crown prince in 2015, he gave orders to his close aides to investigate corruption. A list of 200 names was given to him.
The anti-corruption actions did not spare the biggest names in business. Bakr Bin Laden, head of the largest construction firm Bin Laden, was not spared, and neither was former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s company, which went bankrupt. Even the ministers that had risen to prominence after Mohammad Bin Salman became the crown prince, were caught in the extensive sweep.
The siege, which ended after three months after money was returned to the exchequer, resulted in unrest among Saudi’s business community. The negotiations between the imprisoned royals and the authorities were kept private. Unconfirmed reports pegged the returned amount as high as $100 billion.
Before forming the federal government, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf used to quote the Chinese anti-corruption model as exemplary. Imran Khan repeatedly narrated that 400 Chinese Ministers were punished for corruption, however, even if you search for them, you will not find the list of these 400 ministers. Impressed by the Saudi siege, the PTI also quoted the Saudi example. During his state visit to Saudi Arabia, in 2018, Imran Khan told the state TV that Mohammad Bin Salman is his role-model in efforts to purge malpractices. He promised to run a campaign in Pakistan that would be as effective as the Prince’s was.
Today, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) is working exactly as the Prime Minister had desired, and keeping in line with the Saudi model, wants its powers and authorities extended even further.
Now, lets take a look at the Corruption Index, where, among 180 countries, among the 180 countries, China ranks 87th, and Saudi Arabia 58th. Pakistan is at 117. Iran, notorious for its strict punishments, is at number 138. Among the top ten least corrupt countries, the majority are Western European. Denmark is at number 1, followed by New Zealand, Finland, Singapore and Sweden.
Perhaps the authorities in Pakistan who want to emulate the Saudi and Chinese models have not seen this index or they do not want to give it importance. The two countries they want to copy, are not even among the top 50 least corrupt nations.
Why, then, are these two countries held up as an example for us?
Critics have alleged that under the guise of an anti-corruption drive, Prince Mohammad Bin Salman strengthened his hold on power, guaranteed allegiances, and discredit his opponents. their allegiance was guaranteed. The monarchical system made sure that no instability would follow the siege.
As for China, whosoever stays within the bounds of its one-party system will remain safe. Stepping out of the bounds of the system is just not a possibility. A recent example of this is that a mayor in China was caught with billions in cash, and tons upon tons of gold. A political worker was amassing ill begotten wealth for years, and yet China’s system did not know of it. Can this case be called a glimpse of China’s exemplary system?
There is also the fact that China’s one-party system is in itself a form of authoritarianism. The Communist Party is the only platform available for politics and public representation. To be a part of the system, unconditional loyalty to the party is a prerequisite.
In Pakistan, however, the people have not just the right form his or her own political party, but to oppose political views of all others.
If the authorities really are committed to ending corruption, and not just trying to strengthen their stranglehold on power or weakening their opponents, then why do they not try to replicate the anti-corruption models of the top ten countries on the corruption index? Why not look at what makes these countries so special? Why quote the strict punishments of Saudia, China and Iran and not the welfare states of Sweden, Norway and Denmark?
These are the questions that were avoided in the past. They remain unanswered, even now.
This article first appeared in Urdu in Daily Dunya