A light shines on Pakistan’s cesspool


A light shines on Pakistan’s cesspool

Ayaz Amir

“Nawaz Sharif is the founder of new Pakistan” …says PML-N minister and all-weather loudspeaker, Saad Rafique. If the saga of wealth hidden in offshore accounts is what constitutes the new Pakistan, with the ruling family’s contradictory statements arousing bemusement and laughter in equal measure, sinners can be forgiven for wishing that they might be better off with the old Pakistan.

The Panama case hearings are coming to an end and what is most noticeable at this point is the absolute frustration of their lordships. Seasoned justices all, in their long and distinguished judicial careers they would have heard their share of fairy tales but it is a fair bet that they would have heard nothing like the fairy tales coming from the lawyers of the prime minister and his children.

The only documents provided are in the form of the two Qatari letters. That is all. Throughout the hearings the bench kept asking for bank statements, money trail, etc, and it goes to the credit of the PM and his lawyers that they successfully faced up to the pressure and provided nothing.

Some sort of prize must also go to the NAB chairman, Qamar Zaman Chaudry, known throughout the Punjab bureaucracy as a Sharif favourite and loyalist. There is an Ishaq Dar confessional statement as long as a regular tennis court admitting to money-laundering on behalf of the Sharif family but when the NAB chairman was asked by the bench whether he was inclined to raise this matter afresh in the Supreme Court—by going into appeal against the Lahore High Court single bench decision declaring Dar’s confession to be of no evidentiary value—he stood his ground and flatly refused.

No, the Bureau would do no such thing—in effect telling their lordships to go do as they pleased. This is called loyalty. And he is our accountability czar.

We have to hand it to the ruling family—which has been in power for a long time—that they are masters of bureaucratic appointments, with a sure knack for knowing whom to appoint where, the key consideration being unquestioned personal loyalty. During Nawaz Sharif’s second stint as prime minister—the ill-fated stint which ended with Musharraf’s coup—their choice for accountability chief was their family loyalist, Saifur Rehman, whose Qatar connections are long and impressive. Now it is Qamar Chaudry who has just proved his worth before the Supreme Court.

What the verdict in the Panama case is going to be only the powers above can tell. But whatever it is these hearings have served to shine a light on the cesspool—the muck-covered talaab—of Pakistani politics and to reveal the true character of Pakistan’s ruling classes. What has been Pakistan’s foremost problem since its blood-drenched birth? The lack of real and inspirational leadership, because of which this country despite its many advantages, despite being ahead of so many other countries in Asia at the moment of its birth, has slipped backwards, unable to realize its full potential.

Countries like Malaysia (then Malaya) and South Korea counted for nothing. The Gulf emirates whose houbara-hunting facilitators we now are—indeed never to be forgotten are the golden words of our foreign office that providing hunting facilities to our Arab brothers was one of the cornerstones of our foreign policy—were back then long stretches of unexplored desert and little more. They have oil, true, but Dubai, the most shining of the desert emirates, is not rich in oil. But it has been rich in enterprise and leadership.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto wanted to turn Karachi into an Arab destination, a magnet for the Arab world’s skyrocketing wealth when oil prices quadrupled overnight after the 1973 Arab-Israeli conflict. But luck was not on his side and his dreams came to nothing when the army overthrew him in 1977 and established a backward-looking dictatorship which through its regressive policies and involvement in Afghanistan helped turn Pakistan into what it is today.

Dubai is Islamic too but it is light years ahead of us as far as its social orientation is concerned. People go to Dubai to invest their wealth and to have a good time. As we all know it is a favoured destination of well-heeled Pakistanis too. The money Pakistanis have invested or hidden there could take care of a sizeable portion of our national debt.

Dubai has an Arab version of the rule of law. But it has no democracy and no free media. We have democracy and a free media but no rule of law. Pakistanis should try to figure out this conundrum. Why is it that the law is not the same for everyone here? Why are the privileged classes so privileged? The best that this land has to offer is for them. The resources of the state are for them which is why in all walks of life different standards prevail—better schools, hospital care and housing for the already well-off while the masses are force-fed on pious declarations and lofty rhetoric.

The Panama hearings have given everyone a peep into the true state of affairs prevailing in our society. They have told us that politics and power have nothing to do with public welfare or such high-sounding sentiments as the uplift of the masses. Power is about the rich and powerful making themselves more rich and powerful. What these hearings reveal is the greed, secretiveness and duplicity of our ruling class and the absolute contempt that this class has for the ordinary citizen of this country.

The sad thing is that it wasn’t always like this. In our early years, right up to the Ayub era, there were other failings in our politics but the kind of corruption and money-making we see now was almost unknown. Ayub Khan’s son, Gauhar Ayub, went into business and set up Gandhara Motors with his father-in-law, Gen Habibullah, and there was a national outcry, so unprecedented was such a step at that time. But here we have ruling families entering politics and making it to high political office with only one industrial enterprise to their name and in no time they are in the front rank of magnates owning dozens of enterprises.

As if all this is not enough, one political family comes to be associated with something called Surrey Palace while the other, even as it shouts itself hoarse about the corruption of its opponents, has its Mayfair flats which are many times more expensive than the Surrey Palace they are denouncing.

The nation is taken for a ride but it doesn’t stop voting the same groups into power. This is the Pakistani tragedy: the lack of choice, being stuck with the same dummies and hollow drums. The race is not between good and bad but between different degrees of rascality. So even as the Panama hearings have been an education, as well as a prolonged amusement, for the nation it remains a moot point whether the nation learns anything from this rather expensive education.