As twilight descends


As twilight descends

Ayaz Amir

I am trying to think what it would have been like if instead of the Sharifovs it had been the PPP leadership, say our old friend Zardari, caught in the Panama swamp. Nawaz Sharif would have been all righteous indignation, saying that it was impossible that any country could tolerate such a bunch of crooks running its affairs.

The PML-N by now would have taken out rallies in Lahore and elsewhere calling for the government’s departure. And the PML-N faithful media would have created an atmosphere of crisis across the country.

The Sharifov clan has been exposed for what they are. There couldn’t be anything more damning than the JIT report. Anywhere else, just on the basis of this report, the government would have fallen or the prime minister, if he was the target of such a report, would have gone home. But we only have to look at these people—the Sharif clan, that is—to see that they are not made of ordinary stuff.

Not only are they trying to hold their ground. They are spinning such yarns and adopting such positions as leave any onlooker astonished. There is not one charge against us of corruption or dipping our hands into the public till, they are still saying…as if money-laundering, tax dodging, hiding assets and being unable to explain where those assets came from lie outside the domain of corruption.

The JIT report, say the Sharifs, says nothing about corruption. The JIT report was about offshore companies. If it was about the Lahore Metro Bus or the other ‘mega-projects’—aren’t we sick of this phrase?—about which the Sharifs blow their trumpet every day, the nation probably would have received by now an education in mega-corruption. But since the JIT was set up to investigate the charges emanating from the Panama Papers, what the report reveals is a tale of lies, fraud and fabrications never before heard or recorded in the annals of the Islamic Republic.

We have come across many tale-spinners in our history but never on this scale. The lies exposed by the report go back to the early 1990s when Nawaz Sharif, with the help of the ‘establishment’, became prime minister for the first time. Three things happened then. The Sharifs were in power, they were setting one factory after the other in Pakistan and, simultaneously, through massive funds whose exact money trail remains hidden behind a fog of obfuscation, they were buying expensive property in London.

In broad outline this story was known. The chattering classes, the drawing room classes, the political class and newspaper newsrooms knew about the exponential growth of the Sharif business empire. There were columns in the London press and there was Raymond Baker’s book which provided details of the Sharifs’ financial swashbuckling. But none of this led to any worthwhile prosecution in Pakistan because the Sharifs were either in power, which made any prosecution unlikely, or Benazir Bhutto’s government was too weak to really take them on.

Musharraf’s accountability drive came to nothing because the Saudis intervened and the Sharifs came out of prison and were sent into exile in the Holy Land. All the corruption cases against the family, which were many, were left to dry in the sun. When Nawaz Sharif came back in 2007 all these cases were quashed one by one either by friendly judges or because the Zardari government that then came to power was not interested in taking them any further.

The Sharifs have been around at the top the longest in Pakistan’s history. But this is the first time they have been caught in a net like this. They completed misjudged the situation and never thought things would come to this pass…that even as they sat in the PM’s House they would have to appear before an investigation team and answer searching questions which would leave them flustered and hot under the collar.

Once before when a Supreme Court had made them uncomfortable they had it in their power to send in their party workers to storm the court. But this time it was different. They couldn’t do anything of the sort. They had been used to friendly judges and they knew how to influence the courts. This time, to their enormous frustration, the Supreme Court was out of their reach. They just couldn’t influence it. Nor could they ‘manage’ the JIT even if it was composed of middle-level officers from various departments.

That’s when the realization should have hit them that they were losing this whole thing. They had no defence to offer beyond the make-believe story contained in the Qatari letters. Their only hope thus lay in ‘managing’ the investigative process. But once this lay beyond their considerable powers, the end should have been a foregone conclusion. Thus the countdown is on and only the last ceremonies remain.

But the Sharifs are still clinging to the straws that happen to come to their hand and the media battalions on their side are still trying to confuse the issue. These are last ditch efforts destined to lead nowhere. The thing is done because the Sharifs’ culpability regarding the charges thrown up by the Panama Papers lies exposed.

Pakistan is at a standstill. No government worth the name is functioning in Islamabad. The prime minister and his team have nothing else on their minds but this scandal and what it is leading to—the prime minister’s imminent dismissal at the hands of the three-man Supreme Court bench charged with the hearing of this case.

But everything should soon be over, probably this week. And then the PML-N will be on test. Will they be able to smoothly pick on a suitable replacement? They better succeed or we will be up facing another crisis.

The good thing for Pakistan is that there has been extra-constitutional intervention from anywhere. Everything has happened under the constitution and the law. The Supreme Court has overseen this affair, no one else. And whatever comes out of this it will be better, an improvement, over what existed before.