Squalor and shame unlimited
How is it possible to live with so much shame and ignominy? No political family in Pakistan’s history has amassed so much wealth while in power. No family in Pakistan’s history has had to put up with so much humiliation. Anyone else only slightly less thick-skinned would have fled Pakistan’s political shores long ago. We have to hand it to the Sharifs that they are made of some special material. Shame seems not to affect them the way it would lesser mortals.
In the end when all the JIT reading is done what leaves you aghast, and not a little shaken, is the squalid nature of the things that the Sharifs as a family have been involved in all these years—lies upon lies, systematic deceit, money-laundering on a vast scale, and offshore companies to hide the trails leading to all the properties in London.
As remarkable as the scale of the fraud were the masks of piety and self-righteousness donned throughout. Even as political power was traded and manipulated for setting up factories and accumulating wealth by any means not a prayer, no religious observance, was missed. The last ten days of Ramzan were invariably spent in the Holy Land. Equally remarkable is the fact that the Sharifs remained popular political figures.
Luck was on their side and the army and security agencies—what in Pakistan we call the establishment—picked on them as a counterweight to the PPP. The Sharifs had no political background whatsoever but the agencies, in a bid to downgrade the power and appeal of the PPP, propped them up and turned them into redoubtable political figures.
The elder Sharif, the patriarch of the clan whose name figures so prominently in the Qatari letters, was a canny individual with a knack for coming close to and currying favour with the military elite that dominated Pakistan in the Zia era. From out of nowhere Nawaz Sharif was picked as finance minister by then Punjab governor, Lt Gen Jillani. Following the 1985 non-party elections Nawaz Sharif was Gen Zia’s choice as Punjab chief minister.
There was no stopping the Sharifs thereafter. They were the owners of one company, Ittefaq Foundry. Exploiting their new-found political cleft they set up one factory after another, to the point where they were masters of an industrial empire. Even so, to all appearances, they thought this was not enough. In the early 1990s, by which time Nawaz Sharif with help from the same holy establishment had become prime minister, began the quest to transfer abroad the money accumulating in Pakistan. That is when the Mayfair flats became Sharif property.
These were familiar stories and people in the know knew what was going on. The existence of the Mayfair flats was first revealed in the London press—in an article in the Observer, if memory serves me right. Raymond Baker in his book ‘Capitalism’s Achilles’ Heel’ provided details of Nawaz Sharif’s corruption. But nothing seemed to touch Nawaz Sharif who seemed proof against all charges. Cases were filed against him in Musharraf’s time but before anything could come of them his Saudi benefactors had come to his rescue and taken him off to Jeddah.
When Musharraf’s rule entered its twilight period, the fatal hour before downfall sets in, Nawaz Sharif was able to return to Pakistan, again with Saudi help because Prince Abdallah’s pitch was that if Benazir Bhutto could make a comeback why not their protégé.
Thus was set the stage for Nawaz Sharif’s third stint as prime minister. Pakistanis are a gullible lot and easily fooled. By the beginning of 2016 there was no shortage of pundits who were saying that Nawaz Sharif was certain to win the 2018 elections, these wiseacres probably never having heard of Harold Wilson’s caveat that a week is a long time in politics.
So it was that just when everything seemed the most propitious for Nawaz Sharif, including the fact that his bête noire Gen Raheel Sharif was soon to be on his way out, struck the thunderbolt that we know as the Panama Papers. In them was revealed the fact what we all knew but had no means of proving that Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Safdar owned a string of Panama-based offshore companies.
Had it been up to Pakistan’s other political parties the issue would have been buried and soon forgotten. But there is no one more indefatigable on the Pakistani political scene than Imran Khan and he picked it up and wouldn’t let it die. He started a political campaign and addressed public rallies blasting Nawaz Sharif’s corruption. The Jamaat-i-Islami’s Sirajul Haq also took a stand while Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, Pakistan’s leading political maverick, stood with Imran Khan. Other politicians were neither here nor there. And there was the media especially the talk shows which every evening for an entire year spoke of nothing but the Panama Papers.
Only the death-blow remained and that was dealt by the JIT whose findings are so exhaustive and meticulous—and backed by solid, documentary evidence—that nothing is left to the imagination. No praise is enough for the JIT or indeed for the Supreme Court without whose clear-cut direction and protection none of this would have been possible. It is not just one man but the entire family which stands nailed to the mast accused of serial falsehoods and deceitful conduct.
But the Sharifs are a tough lot and their brazenness is nothing short of amazing. Doing their best to rubbish the JIT report—in which they are not succeeding—they are trying to hold on. But the ground has shifted from under their feet and their luck has run out. The JIT report is too damning and provides ground for Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification not just once but many times over. It is only a matter of time. Nor will this be all. There is also the danger of criminal cases and a NAB reference being filed against Nawaz Sharif.
This has been a long time in coming but finally we have it before us, proving once again, if proof was needed, that the mills of God grind slowly but grind exceeding small. Pakistan has been a luckless country on many counts. Imagine these leaders we’ve had for such a long time. Look at their conduct and their small minds and the total absence of anything that could be defined as morality. But their time is up, that’s the writing on the wall.
This was the work of 60 years which the JIT has completed in 60 days. Few people thought this possible. Now circles loyal to the ruling party are saying that this work would not have been possible without help from the agencies. Far from being a matter of concern this goes to show the foresight of the judges who while constituting the JIT held that representatives from the ISI and Military Intelligence should be part of it. So whatever the agencies did was under orders from the Supreme Court.
This is not just any other case. It will have profound consequences for the country’s future. A corrupt political order which has been around for the longest in Pakistani’s history, longer than any martial law, is finally on its way out. Whatever else happens this will be no mean achievement. Great as the sins of the Pakistani people may be they deserved better than such dodgers and financial artists, a euphemism for con men, as their rulers.