Who is playing with fire?
Khawaja Saad Rafique, one of the Kashmiri ministers in the cabinet and therefore close to Nawaz Sharif, says Imran Khan is playing with fire. To reinforce this image he goes on to say that Imran is cutting the branch on which he is sitting. In plain language this amounts to saying that Imran Khan, now the real opposition leader in the country, by his politics of agitation is imperilling democracy.
In Pakistan this has always been the argument of last resort. When all other arguments fail, out comes the warning that democracy is in danger. This is a bit like the religious parties which when left with no defence regarding any issue come out with the standard warning, delivered of course in a shrill voice, that Islam is in danger. To each his own.
What exactly is Imran’s fault? What has he done? He has been calling attention to corruption and highhandedness in national life. He has focused on the alleged corruption of the ruling family. He has kept the issue of the Panama Papers alive. Largely through his sustained efforts this issue finally landed in the Supreme Court…or it would have been forgotten.
The PPP was not interested in the Panama Papers. For the likes of Maulana Fazlur Rehman this was never an issue at all. The Awami National Party never wanted to do anything to embarrass Nawaz Sharif. The one politician who kept hammering at it was Imran Khan, with some help from the Jamaat-i-Islami’s Sirajul Haq and Pakistan’s leading maverick politician with a knack for the colourful statement, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed.
By pointing a finger at corruption are you playing with fire and imperiling democracy? To accept this argument is to give a licence to corruption. Questions then will never be asked because the moment you raise your voice against corruption or any other form of wrongdoing there will always be someone going red in the face and saying this is a conspiracy against democracy.
The Panama Papers were not an invention of the ISI, and thank God for that. Even as confirmed a loyalist as President Mamnoon Hussein—and you can’t get more loyal than him—felt impelled to say that this issue was something that had fallen from the skies. Maybe this was just a slip of the tongue, uttered in the heat of the moment, but there it was—you can see it on YouTube, the president addressing a gathering in Hyderabad when this observation rolled out of his tongue. When the Supreme Court took up this matter it did so of its own accord without any prompting from any other quarter…no messenger in the dark delivering it any kind of message.
On top of all this, the unfortunate bit for the Sharifs was that they were able to come up with no convincing defence before the Supreme Court, not a scrap of paper, not a single bank statement, no money trail whatsoever to explain, or account for, their Hyde Park properties. The five-member bench hearing this case was expected to swallow the fiction purveyed in the two letters provided by a prince of the ruling Qatari family.
The Sharifs can’t get their act together. They can’t agree on a single story—the prime minister says one thing in the National Assembly, something else in his address to the nation, while the two sons, Hasan and Hussain, give different versions in their various TV interviews, and the nation is supposed to accept all this and suspend its disbelief all for the sake of democracy.
The charges against the prime minister and his family are no laughing matter. They are serious…ranging from money-laundering to tax evasion. The PM’s difficulty is that for the first time in his long political career he is being compelled to face an independent investigating team over which he or his cohorts are able to exercise no influence. The PM has been used to officials like the present NAB chairman, Qamar Zaman Chaudry, and to judges like Malik Qayyum, who could always be counted upon to act more loyal than the king.
Tariq Shafi, a Sharif cousin, has been whining about the treatment he received at the hands of the JIT. He wasn’t roughed up, there was no third degree as happens in police stations and detention centres across the country. It was pure verbal interrogation and yet he found the experience very unsettling. Hussain Nawaz has also appeared before the JIT but this is just the beginning. The PM has also to be questioned.
Why is all this happening? The simple answer is because the Sharifs don’t have much of a story. If they did they could have spared both themselves and the nation this extended drama, now going on for over a year. So who is playing with fire, those pressing for an honest investigation or those lacking the moral courage to come out with the truth?
I personally thought this JIT would mean nothing and would lead to nothing substantial or worthwhile. Skeptics like me are being proved wrong. The JIT is going about its work in a serious manner, the growing nervousness of the PML-N being a measure of this. Saad Rafique’s admonition is important precisely for this reason that it reveals the mood of the ruling party. If they have come down to thinking that Imran Khan is playing with fire this is an indication of the fears starting to prey on their minds.
What do they fear? An adverse judgment? The possibility cannot be ruled out…the JIT just has to give an adverse finding and it can be very serious for the PM and, by extension, the ruling party. Two members of the JIT are said to be asking the hard questions. There are two military officials on this team as well and so far we know nothing of their role and attitude. So it is a grim outlook for those on the receiving end.
Is this situation good for the country? There is so much happening around us: in Afghanistan, in Occupied Kashmir, in the region as a whole. Pakistan needs someone on deck fully focused on these dangers. We have a PM preoccupied by 1) the Panama investigation and 2) Imran Khan. There are ministers and PML-N spokesmen whose sole responsibility seems to be to denounce Imran on a daily basis. Given the kind of ebullient and bubbling person he is, his optimism always at fever pitch, Imran would be enjoying this spectacle.
There is an entire cottage industry in the media devoted to predicting that the next elections are all but secured in the PML-N’s bag, forgetting the adage that a week can be a long time in politics—this attributed to Harold Wilson, Britain’s one-time prime minister. There is a year to go before those elections and the JIT has only just begun its work. There will be plenty of time to make predictions when this task is done.
Tailpiece: Just as I finished writing this column came word that the Supreme Court had rejected the reservations expressed by Hussain Nawaz regarding two members of the JIT. Even though it was widely expected that this would happen, the ruling as it has come and some remarks coming from their lordships would be a further cause of concern and indeed a blow to the confidence of the ruling family.