Time this embarrassment came to an end
This is no longer a government. It’s more like an embarrassment, both at home and abroad. How long will this last? When will we see a closure into the Panama affair, which is the thing that has really undone Nawaz Sharif and his government? That and the persistence of one man, Imran Khan, otherwise Panama itself would have been dead a long time ago. He kept its flame burning until the matter landed in the Supreme Court.
Credit, a great deal of credit, goes to the Supreme Court as well for the diligent way it has handled this entire affair. An indulgent court, of the kind the Sharifs have been used to during their long political career, could have allowed this case to die. My Lord the Chief Justice did the right thing by appointing the five-man bench which conducted the hearings into the Panama allegations. The judgment this bench delivered was a landmark judgment, although at the time not many people recognized this.
All five justices pilloried Nawaz Sharif, albeit that it was a split verdict, two justices, the senior most, calling for the prime minister’s disqualification while the majority judges, three of them, held that the matter called for further investigation…which is why the present Joint Investigation Team was constituted to look into the allegations against Sharif and Sons Limited.
In retrospect it appears that this was the correct call, for if the majority opinion had gone in favour of disqualification, there would have been an outcry about the judgment’s fairness, their lordships accused to shooting from the hip. When the JIT delivers its verdict—and the clock is ticking fast—diehard Noonies and Sharif loyalists will of course raise accusing fingers as they are now doing, questioning the JIT’s fairness, but as far as the broad run of public opinion is concerned accusing fingers will not be that easy to raise.
It’s already known that his royal highness the prince of Qatar who came to the defence of the Sharif family with his two fanciful letters will neither be testifying long distance before the JIT—through video-link or whatever—nor taking the trouble to make a personal appearance before the investigators. Take away the letters and what remains of the Sharif defence? Conflicting statements, nothing more.
The PM, as we know, is set to appear before the JIT this Thursday and the man who knows everything, our finance wizard Ishaq Dar who over the years has done so much yeoman service for the Sharifs is also likely to be called. In most other countries this would be enough for a government to pack its bags and leave. The Sharifs are still hoping for a miracle to get them out of this soup. With each passing day the chances of this occurring are getting slimmer.
To get an insight into the feelings of the ruling party you only have to read the writings of their media champions. I always make it a point to read these columns, for the element of unwitting comedy which they provide. They are a long and perpetual moan these days…endless crying and lamenting. The N League has tried everything: maligning the judges, making the JIT controversial, calling down imprecations on Imran Khan’s head. But nothing has worked. All that remains is the golden road to Samarkand, or the shorter road to the shrine of the exalted Ali Hajveri.
In times past, as for instance when the N League prided itself on its ‘heavy mandate’, what was the Supreme Court’s worth before the ruling party? It could always be taken by assault. But times have changed and what was possible then is no longer in the Nawaz League’s power now. In 1997 when the N League carried out its physical assault on the Supreme Court there was just a weakened Benazir Bhutto on the national horizon. Today there is the more daunting prospect of facing Imran Khan…who has warned that if the Noonies are up to any tricks his diehards will be on the roads in no time.
No, the cards are stacked against Nawaz Sharif. The N League, for all the television bluster of its second tier leaders—or rather loudspeakers, for such champions as Talal Chaudry and Danial Aziz fall better in the category of loudspeakers than anything to do with leadership—is in no position to hold rallies and mount a public agitation against the ongoing investigation. The army would look askance at any such adventure and, as already stated, there is Imran Khan to consider.
Not many people would agree to the proposition that what we are presently seeing in Pakistan is the beginning of a transition, a move from one era to another. The long reign of the Sharifs is in the doldrums. Is it coming to an end? Everything points in that direction. Nothing is going right for them. Nawaz Sharif goes to Riyadh and he doesn’t get the attention he expects. He goes to Astana and, as the Indian media can’t help gloating over the fact, he doesn’t get to have a one-on-one meeting with the Chinese president Xi Jinping.
This was a government whose power lay in its advertising skills…and now they can’t even get their ads right. Shehbaz Sharif’s profile in a health department ad turns out to be half-fake: his head stuck on somebody else’s slightly more dashing figure. Soothsayers and astrologers would take this as a sign from above.
There is no governance worth the name. Everything is at a standstill, marking time. The army is doing its own thing. The corps commanders meet and issue a statement on Afghanistan which, come to think of it, is none of their business but when there is a vacuum in the heart of government, as there presently is, then everyone does his own thing.
The faithful are waiting for the end of Ramzan. With fasting falling at the height of summer this has been a tough holy month. The nation awaits the JIT report. Everything hangs on its outcome. It’s turning out to be a long hot summer for the Sharifs as well.
Everything has an expiry date. The Sharifs are long past theirs. They’ve done their thing, they’ve exhausted their rhetoric and beyond flyovers and metro bus lines they never were very famous for anything in the ideas department. Pakistan needs a fresh start. It can do with fresh ideas. It needs new hands on deck, new people at the helm.
In 1971-72, after the Indo-Pak war and the birth of Bangladesh, the future was in the hands of the PPP. For much of Pakistan’s history the future has been in the hands of the military leadership. Never before has it happened that Pakistan’s future should be in the hands of five members of an investigation team and three judges of the Supreme Court.