Pakistan’s leader must ensure safety of government watchdog

So long as Pakistan depends on foreign aid for its economic survival, the country’s leaders must expect close scrutiny from donor nations, led by the United States. But the government of President Asif Ali Zardari has not taken kindly to “outsiders” leveling charges of corruption, mismanagement and waste, which is why the findings of an organization headed by a Pakistani, Adil Gilani, are so important.

The irregularities in spending uncovered by Transparency International’s office in Karachi not only confirm what observers of Pakistan already know — that corruption is endemic — but point to a failure by Zardari and his government to tackle the problem head on.

Indeed, it is disturbing that Gilani is portrayed as a traitor and is receiving death threats. People he described as “highly placed government officials” have warned him in face-to-face meetings that he could be killed he if continued to criticize the government, the Los Angeles Times reported.

If telling the truth about America’s leading ally in the war on global terrorism is viewed as criticism, then President Obama needs to have a serious talk with his counterpart in Islamabad. And, he needs to deliver a stern warning: It is to Pakistan’s financial interests to make sure that nothing happens to the government watchdog.

“The fact that I am alive at all is very strange,” Gilani told the Times. His investigations have helped expose bidding irregularities at power plants that robbed government’s treasury of $2 billion, a real estate scam that cost taxpayers $16 million and a $257 million scandal that brought down the chairman of Pakistan’s largest steel mill.

That’s why the power structure in Pakistan is upset. The findings are a blow to the nation’s reputation and credibility, and they confirm what many Americans believe: The billions of dollars in military and other aid are being wasted.

Huge commitment

The administration has committed $7.5 billion in civilian aid over five years, some of which will be used for reconstruction. Last summer’s floods left millions of people homeless, and the Zadari government was harshly criticized for not responding quickly and adequately and for not providing the necessary funds to shelter the victims.

Indeed, Islamic extremist organizations that want to replace the central government with a theocracy were on the scene of the devastation before disaster officials could respond.

The stability of Pakistan is crucial to the success of the war in Afghanistan being waged by America and her allies against Taliban extremists. The democratically elected government of Hamid Karzai is on shaky ground, which is why the presence of coalition forces under NATO is necessary. However, the Taliban has joined forces with Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida terrorist organization, which has found a safe haven in the tribal areas between the Afghanistan and Pakistan. The region is a powder keg.

Last month, Pakistan’s prime minister, Yusuf Raza Gilani, who is not related to Adil Gilani, tried to reassure donor nations with this statement: “Sometimes it is asked, why doesn’t Pakistan help itself? Why doesn’t Pakistan do more? When will Pakistan begin to reform its institutions and reform its public sector? These are valid questions.”

Well, it’s time for some answers — and for a plan of action to end the culture of corruption and the pillaging of the public treasury.