Post Panamaleaks probe of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s assets, through a Joint Investigative Team ( JIT ), is Pakistan’s great leap forward in the struggle to end corruption in the corridors of power. But will the struggle that is thus far proceeding lawfully also end lawfully? It does not seem likely. The ruling party has a persecution complex and the Panama hearing has only intensified it. The proceeding against a sitting PM and his family is the first ever of its kind in Pakistan, and although the judicial entities involved are acting sovereign, with no SOPs in place, their road is bumpy.
For the benefit of the nation, live broadcast of the proceedings would have been in order. In democracy, people’s right to know is the foremost value in all matters pertaining to the conduct of their democratic leaders. The whole nation in America watched the Iran Contra hearings in 1987. The interrogation was televised live on CSPAN and on National Public Radio for the benefit of all Americans. On the one hand, the live coverage minimized media’s spin doctors’ projection of vested interests at the expense of truth. On the other, the individual with the gift for gab rose in public esteem during the coverage regardless of which side he/she occupied. Col. Oliver North emerged as the young republican’s hero from the Iran Contra hearings by virtue of his good looks and cocky mannerism, while Arthur Limen, Chief Counsel for the Senate investigation, didn’t capture the popular imagination because his visuals were less impressive compared to that of Oliver North. These facetious differences notwithstanding, a televised probe of such matters can make a real difference in the quality of democracy a country has. Pakistan is missing an opportunity to grow by not televising the Panama hearings.
Despite the apparent sovereignty of the JIT as exhibited thus far, matters seem headed towards a violent confrontation between the government and the judiciary on one hand, and the government and opposition on the other. It is because mature voices in the PML(N) are silent while immature voices of sycophancy are shrill and loud ever since the Panama affair put Nawaz Sharif in the dock a year ago. From day one, there has been no intra party meeting to address the Panama revelations regarding the first family’s assets abroad. There has been no moral and candid stance taken by the Party syndicate, no declaration to the effect issued to the public by Party stalwarts. The Panamaleaks affair was an opportunity for the PML(N) to rise as a mature and invincible political party in Pakistan. Instead, it is cutting a sorry figure as some of its leaders shoot verbal arrows here and there in their bid to show loyalty to their besieged leader while others have sat on the fence and have avoided taking a principled stand on the matter from day one.
The most likely outcome of the probe is the permanent disqualification of Nawaz Sharif and his immediate family from holding any public office in Pakistan. Psychologically unprepared for such an outcome, the Sharif family seems in no mood to defer to the judiciary regarding its fate. It is trying to legitimize its defiance by insisting on taking the matter to the public and having it decided through the ballot. The much-needed electoral reforms have yet to crystallize. The opposition seems hell-bent on having the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his immediate family disqualified, including the PM’s daughter who is groomed for office. The Pakistani public has been made to witness the contradictory statements of the first family in the matter of acquisition of immense wealth through 24/7 media and because it is generally disappointed in the quality of its leadership, it is least motivated to take an active stand in favor of one against the other. The ruling family has rich networks and seems all set to utilize them in its support. The political parties of Pakistan are happy to see the back of Nawaz Sharif and Co. before the next election but are also apprehensive of the legacy of accountability the JIT probe will bequeath to the nation. Some powerful leaders in the opposition will thus utilize their resources to thwart such a legacy from getting entrenched while supporting the go Nawaz go hype created by Imran Khan.
There are thus many cross currents at play. It does not seem likely that the end of this affair will be the court ordering the Prime Minister to step down, followed by the Prime Minister bowing out in peace and his party accepting the outcome with equanimity. If fireworks are displayed, the casualty will be PML(N) for sure, but no clear winner is in sight at present. Imran Khan is credited with the movement to end corruption but he has damaged his image through missteps in the last two years and his redeeming acts do not outweigh the mistakes as yet. Asif Zardari has put an end to the promising entrance of Bilawal Bhutto into Pakistani leadership scene while being quite uninspiring himself.
The most likely person to benefit from the current situation is Tahir Ul Qadri of Tehreek-e-Minhaj ul Quran. His entry into active politics now is therefore certain. His ability to prevail under the circumstances is also unquestioned. Qadri is likely to enter Pakistani political scene with “I told you sos” and due to the proven veracity of his assertions, he is likely to capture a very big audience.
The show of political force, in the near future, is likely to be between Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf’s Imran Khan and Tehreek-e- Minhaj ul Quran’s Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri. It is the religious segment of Pakistani population that is likely to be the most mobilized in the circumstance.