Farewell to Panama


Farewell to Panama

Ayaz Amir

It was good while it lasted…fireworks and grand theatre, not to mention the posturing and posing of the various protagonists in front of the TV cameras. Now, and one better believe this, it’s over, consigned to gradual forgetfulness by that ingenious Pakistani invention meant to produce great noise but no result or substance: a Joint Investigation Team.

The Trump White House, now caught in a sea of troubles, should immediately send out a team of experts to Pakistan to study this phenomenon. American law has its troublesome aspects and when American presidents are guilty of misdemeanours, or serious breaches of conduct, investigations conducted by specially-appointed special prosecutors can take a dangerous turn—as President Nixon found to his cost. If the Trump people could borrow a leaf from the Pakistani experience and appoint a Joint Investigation Team to look into the allegations of Russian collusion roiling the Trump White House, their troubles could soon be over.

For the beauty of this Pakistani invention is that it never arrives anywhere. Once a JIT is set up the matter supposed to be investigated is as good as dead. So we can safely conclude that with a JIT looking into the allegations of money-laundering and hidden assets against the Sharifs—our ruling clan—we can all sit back and relax, putting all our tensions to the side, because like other JITs before it this JIT too will be arriving nowhere.

This is not a hunch or feeling…I can take a wager on it. The Supreme Court bench hearing this case has directed the JIT constituted under its ruling to complete its investigation in 60 days, not more, and present its report to their lordships. In this period the hawk-eyed members of this team will hardly finish writing the letters they are proposing to write to London forensic firms, the Panamanian authorities, the Qatari prince on whose two literary masterpieces the entire defence of the Sharif family rests, governments of the countries where the Sharif wealth is supposed to be hidden, and so on.

This is an undertaking rich in humour. Among other letters to other addressees, a questionnaire is to be sent to the Qatari prince, presumably through our foreign office which will be asked to send it to our ambassador in Qatar, who will then forward it to his royal highness. Suppose his royal highness is not to be found in Qatar…after all this is the height of summer when every self-respecting Arab prince, big and small, heads for holiday destinations in Europe, say around Lake Geneva or somewhere in the south of France. Tracing his highness’s whereabouts can thus become a difficult exercise.

Suppose our ambassador in Qatar, after making discreet inquiries or consulting the great Pakistani expert on all things related to Qatar, Mian Saifur Rehman—once upon a time Ehtisab chief of our prime minister—dispatches the questionnaire by courier to an address in the Swiss Alps. Suppose his highness has moved on from there without leaving behind a forwarding address. The package consequently comes back to Qatar, making our embassy begin from the beginning.

So what apart from courier dispatch receipts will the JIT have to show for its efforts when it makes its fortnightly reports, as it is required to do, to the three-member Supreme Court bench overseeing this investigation? Furthermore, what exactly will the JIT ask of the Panamanian authorities? As far as I know we have no agreement with Panama for the exchange of such information. So that means another dead-end.

The Asghar Khan case—relating to money distributed by the ISI in the 1990 elections—was relatively simple, based as it was on the clear and direct testimony of a former head of the ISI. Yet no Pakistani agency has ever satisfactorily investigated that affair. A JIT has been unable to conclude its investigations into the Model Town killings (14 dead, scores injured). And we are hoping that this vastly more complicated investigation regarding the Panama Papers will be concluded in 60 days.

The original five-member Supreme Court bench conducting the Panama hearings could have summoned the PM or his sons and put some hard questions to them about their properties and the non-existent money trail leading up to them. If that bench with far greater moral authority and clout did not do this, is it realistic to pin any great hopes on a JIT made up of middling officials who have their careers and future prospects to think of? Will these officials discover the audacity that their betters somehow could not?

The Panama Papers will remain a political issue and in the months ahead will surely turn into an election issue. But for all practical purposes the sting has been taken out of this affair. The prime minister’s head is no longer on the block, as it was when the case first came before the Supreme Court.

There are souls thinking that the two military reps on the JIT—from the ISI and Military Intelligence—can still make a difference. This is overheated speculation because it lies not in the power of two colonels or brigadiers to so dominate the JIT’s proceedings that they are able to rewrite history, especially not after the tame ending of the Dawn leaks affair when the army quietly backed down from its earlier seemingly inflexible stand.

One thing we can be sure of: the person who kept this issue alive, Imran Khan, will keep hammering away at it to embarrass the Sharifs and keep up the pressure on them, even as he realizes that the Sharifs are not easily embarrassed. Over the years they have shown a proven ability to shrug off scandals that would have finished off other politicians. They represent a higher level of survivors.

So how are things likely to shape up? We can make some informed guesses. The army’s Raheel Sharif days are over. Civil-military ties have settled down under Gen Bajwa. The Dawn affair is over; the Panama Papers are losing their voltage. This leaves us with the three horsemen in the political arena: a reinvigorated Nawaz Sharif,a diminished Asif Ali Zardari, and facing both of them the man whom they hate the most: Imran Khan.

Who needs to be reminded of corruption all the time? Imran seems to have nothing else on his mind. In Punjab he lambasts the Sharifs. He goes to Sindh and lambasts Zardari. He is the spoiler at both their feasts.

To sum up, Panama is over, although its echoes will keep sounding across the political horizon. Elections beckon and the field of Panipat as always will be the fair land of the five rivers.

Courtesy : Dunyanews.tv