Maybe a chance for a fresh beginning


Maybe a chance for a fresh beginning

Ayaz Amir

In his written testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee former FBI Director James Comey says that President Trump said to him—this was in a telephone call—that the perception that the Russians had something on him was “a cloud” which was impairing his ability to act as president.

The JIT (Joint Investigation Team) inquiry in Pakistan, in terms of the allegations being investigated, is much more serious than anything President Trump is facing in the United States. It is about possible money-laundering, mysterious money trails and hiding details of assets held abroad. If President Trump feels that any FBI investigation is affecting his ability to govern, what would the JIT inquiry be doing to Nawaz Sharif’s ability to act as the custodian of the national interest?

Trump’s children are not being investigated for any financial wrongdoing. Nawaz Sharif’s two sons are under investigation for charges stemming from the scandal that has come to be known as Panamagate. Wouldn’t this circumstance be weighing on his mind?

I know from personal experience that if you have to make one court appearance it affects everything—your state of mind, your judgment, your sleep, even your appetite, the way you have your breakfast and dinner. As his sons make repeated appearances before the JIT—and we have a leaked photo to show the scene where the extended questionings are taking place—wouldn’t the prime minister and the rest of his family be worried? Wouldn’t this investigation be on their minds, affecting their sleeping and waking hours?

The PML-N is certainly worried. We can see this from the agitated mood of its various spokesmen. Some have gone so far as to compare the JIT to a butcher’s shop. The Urdu words for this, qasai kee dukan, have a connotation which is not quite there in English. A qasai kee dukan conjures up the image of a place where rough things are done—things being cut not by a scalpel or a pair of scissors but a heavy cleaver. That’s the impression the ruling party is trying to convey about the JIT. It hasn’t succeeded but it has tried its level best to make the JIT controversial—by leveling allegations of bias and prejudice against two of its members and now by likening it to a butcher’s shop.

And Rana Sanaullah, the Punjab law minister, says that the PML-N reserves the right to boycott the JIT’s proceedings. He even says that if there is any agitation against the JIT he would be there in front. These are strong words which give us an indication of the ruling party’s growing anxiety and its state of mind.

But it’s not as if Panamagate was invented by the PM’s enemies. It fell from the skies and there was no Pakistani hand in its preparation. The allegations about the financial dealings of the Sharif family have been swirling around for decades—the London flats, the fake Qazi accounts opened in some Lahore banks and Ishaq Dar’s lengthy statement regarding money-laundering. This information has been in the public domain for a long time. What the Panama Papers did was to put the seal of authenticity—the seal of international credibility—on these long-standing rumours.

Just as Wikileaks was a windfall about intelligence and intelligence-gathering, the Panama Papers were a windfall about international corruption—the dubious financial dealings of rich and powerful players. In this list of the distinguished were the names of Nawaz Sharif’s children: the two sons and the daughter. The family had been claiming innocence but here it all was in black-and-white.

This led to an international uproar and it was only natural that there would be some kind of an uproar in Pakistan too. But in Pakistan scandals come and go and our experience is that the best of them die down after a while and nothing comes of them. The same would have happened with the Panama Papers except for one factor—Imran Khan.

Over the years the PML-N has escaped so much; it has brushed so many things under the carpet. It survived the Asghar Khan case which was about the ISI, no less, handing out money to a list of PML-N politicians, including Nawaz Sharif and Shehbaz Sharif, in the 1990 elections. If the PPP had been involved in this case its goose would have been cooked. The Model Town firing case was about 14 people gunned down in broad daylight and scores injured as a result of police firing. The PML-N has escaped that too.

But Panamagate the Sharifs have not been able to escape and all because of the din and racket created by Imran Khan with some help—we should note their contribution—from the Jamaat-i-Islami’s Sirajul Haq and the leader of his own one-man band, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed. And we should not forget the media. Without the modern Pakistani media—the media gifted to the nation, although we do not like being reminded of this, by a military dictator, Gen Pervez Musharraf—this issue would not have remained alive. It was the media which did things on its own and also amplified the voice of Imran Khan.

To the mortification of the Sharifs when the Supreme Court finally ruled on the petitions arising from Panamagate all sorts of questions were raised about the evasions and truthfulness of the Sharif family.

Anywhere else with such allegations against a sitting prime minister, the prime minister would have thought fit to step down. But I suppose the answer to this is that this is Pakistan and we are made of sterner stuff. Things like public humiliation we take in our stride. On the basis of political persecution you can lay claim to political martyrdom. But it’s hard to puff out your chest when you are accused of money-laundering and financial fraud. That’s the central problem for the Sharifs. There is little to feel proud about in this scandal. Yet they are hoping that through some miracle the clouds will lift and it will be back to business as usual for them.

But Pakistan is putting up with the consequences. Does anyone take Pakistan seriously? President Trump even in the context of the victims of terrorism does not think Pakistan worth a mention. India he mentions but not Pakistan. Our Arab friends don’t take us seriously…we saw this in Riyadh. Nawaz Sharif simply marked his attendance; there was no other role for him there. And where was the ghazi commander-in-chief, Gen Raheel Sharif, who to the no small humiliation of the Pakistani nation has agreed to take service under the Saudi flag as head of a force which exists only in Saudi imagination?

To be sure, Panamagate is not the only thing responsible for Pakistan not being taken seriously. There are other factors at play. But a corruption scandal is no badge of honour. It definitely affects the ability of a leadership to represent the nation.

But maybe, just maybe, there is some good in all this. Maybe the Panama investigation is the bloodletting this nation has always needed. So who knows this entire affair may yet be the chance Pakistan has long awaited to make a fresh start…and leave all the bitter taste of the past behind.

Courtesy :