One of our popular singers once composed a lyric that went something like: “Pakistan has been passing through a critical phase, ever since I was born”. We also keep hearing about defining moments. Several have come and gone – without defining anything. We now have the mother of all – the case of the Panama papers that has rocked the nation as never before.
Had it not been the Chinese and the cheap fuel, Pakistan would have been on the brink of economic collapse.
Panama papers leaked by a consortium of international investigative journalists named our Prime Minister’s family as the owners of offshore companies that were used to purchase properties in London some two decades ago. It is within the law to establish offshore companies. Foreign currency transfer and owning property overseas by our nationals are also permitted. The catch was the source of funds used to finance the purchase and how these were transferred overseas. The family shot themselves in the foot by issuing statements that appeared contradictory and ill-prepared.
Money laundering and white collar crimes have been under close scrutiny around the world for quite some time. These funds are usually camouflaged in series of nameless, winding transactions through paper companies located on remote islands, in order to keep the identity of the client under wraps. International banks, corporations, government agencies and big business all collude to make them as opaque as possible. Main beneficiaries of these deposits invariably are the western economies where these funds are invested or cash deposited in their banks (where in many cases it lies unclaimed).
Ever since the 2013 general elections, PTI has aggressively and consistently pursued its single point agenda to dislodge Nawaz Sharif from his elected position. It remained in public eye by making tall claims and staging disruptions through holding spectacular dharnas, lock-downs and street agitations, all of which ultimately had to end abruptly leaving the followers wondering what they were about.
The Panama leak descended as a Godsend opportunity with a real chance to accomplish the long-cherished objective. The party switched into top gear assuming the role of prosecutor and judge simultaneously and declared an instant verdict of guilty of corruption and money laundering against the entire first family. A petition in the Supreme Court soon followed.
A perception of gross wrongdoing was systematically created through a vigorous political campaign, spearheaded by the PTI and its chairman, the inexhaustible and inflexible Imran Khan (IK). The hostile electronic media faithfully obliged with glee. IK, as usual, would accept nothing less than the ouster of the Prime Minister. Other opposition parties also jumped on to the bandwagon turning governance of the country into a nightmare.
This perpetual confrontation weakened the government. Rational and meaningful decision making for national welfare became scarce at all levels due to lack of co-operation by political opposition. Though economic indicators improved and terrorism was significantly controlled after considerable human and material sacrifice by the nation, confidence in the governance of the incumbents gradually declined. This resulted in the flight of capital from our fragile economy and drying up of domestic and international investments. Had it not been the Chinese and the cheap fuel, Pakistan would have been on the brink of economic collapse.
The other major casualty in this saga of political rivalry is all our institutions, which have been discredited and maligned by the opposition as incompetent and corrupt. Politicians felt no hesitation in openly airing their aspersions on the integrity of the judiciary when decisions did not correspond to their wishes. This anarchic atmosphere escalated to the extent that even the Supreme Court began to express no confidence in the functioning of statutory institutions such as NAB, FIA and SECP. Such environment of slander and distrust further eroded the repute of our nation.
This interminable personal feud between two individuals heading two major parties has turned our nation into a laughing stock. Unable to resolve their difference politically, both the politicians and institutions and even the parliament abdicated and forfeited their respective authorities. The implementation of the due process of prevalent laws by the state became discretionary as the powerful considered themselves above the law.
The Supreme Court of Pakistan had to step in with an extraordinary mandate of the investigation, trial and judgment of the Panama case. The court constituted a joint investigation team under the watch of a three-member bench to investigate the charges levied in the Panama papers and submit its report for a final judgment.
The PTI leads us to believe that throwing out the Prime Minister will be the end to corruption in our country. Nothing can be more naïve or deceptive. Bribery, tax evasion, misuse of authority, profiteering, adulteration, lawlessness and numerous other ills have become deeply ingrained in all tiers of our social structure (and of the entire subcontinent) from times immemorial – a legacy of the British Raj that kept the common man impoverished, illiterate and depressed, which our aristocratic system has continued to follow. The scale has grown so monumental and is so widespread throughout the nation that only divine intervention or perhaps a grass root revolution could help.
The JIT has embarked on its task expeditiously. But it did not confine itself to establish the money trail for the purchase of the London flats. It enlarged the scope to investigate the extended Sharif family and their business ventures spanning over three generations. Further, the JIT has summoned those witnesses to assist, who are known to be politically or personally hostile to the present regime. This has given an opportunity to the defendants to express reservations to the impartiality of the team.
The fate of the Prime Minister appears to be tilting against him. Although the money trail submitted by the defendants is still undecided, two honourable judges have already convicted and disqualified him unequivocally as being untruthful under Articles 62 and 63 (Sadiq and Amin) in their dissenting notes. In addition, the manner of the JIT proceedings offers no solace to them. The bench now needs one of the remaining three honourable judges on the panel to concur with the minority verdicts subsequent to examining the JIT report to convict Mian Nawaz Sharif or to refer for further investigation.
Unless there is some surprise ruling, the end of the government is not a foregone outcome in such an event. Nor will the democratic structure derail. The majority party will be entitled to choose another leader of the house. The Supreme Court will have set an example. Imran Khan would have tainted Nawaz Sharif and succeeded in deposing him but will have to wait to become Prime Minister until he wins the next elections.
Indeed, if the joint investigation does not find sufficient evidence of money laundering, the final judgment may go in favour of the Prime Minister. In such a case justice must prevail and the petitioner should be held accountable for putting the people at a knife edge and causing great harm to the integrity and the well-being of the nation. In either case, the lost time cannot be retrieved. It is the Pakistani nation that is the ultimate loser.