This morning Pakistani public was bombarded with the front page stories in leading English and Urdu papers of a media group closely aligned with the government, stories that claimed that International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) that leaked the ‘Panama Papers’ has admitted that PM Nawaz Sharif’s name was wrongly implicated in the Panama Papers and that now it has been withdrawn.
This show, apparently written and directed by PM Media Team, was fantastic enough, but the architects of this comedy show did not stop there. Soon this was presented loudly on tv channels and talked about in a thunderous way to suggest that ICIJ has apologized, PM Nawaz’s name has been withdrawn from Panama Files, the ‘great spin story’ was treated as ‘gospel truth’ in a cabinet meeting (more cabinet meetings have happened in the past few weeks than in whole of 2015) and the twitter handle of CNN18 an Indian News Channel took this opportunity to declare that ‘ICIJ’ has exonerated the Pakistani PM from any wrong doing. Why Indians are so worried for a Pakistani Prime Minister is a scandal in itself, but let’s talk about that later.
‘ICIJ Apologizing’ was a full comedy show, no holds barred, ‘Desi style’ but the irony of this is that it demonstrated once for all that now the Pakistani PM is so desperate for clearing his name that a dubious news story, and twitter handle of an Indian channel are being used as ‘evidences’ of PM Nawaz being exonerated. So do we not need a ‘Compliant Commission’ any more?
For any sane mind, the sheer stupidity, the pathetic script of the ‘spin’ and its desperation was obvious and written large on the story itself. It was in the nature of claims. Anyone even slightly familiar with the Panama Files story, the discussion that followed world wide and the heated tv debates in Pakistan knew that awkward questions, allegations, doubts and suspicions around PM Nawaz Sharif flow from his children possessing ‘Offshore Accounts’ or London properties. Even in his own speeches, at least twice, Nawaz Sharif pointedly said that his name is not there; news stories in the same ‘friendly paper’ kept claiming that PM will clear his children’s name. PMLN ministers privately kept claiming that since children are not residents in Pakistan therefore ‘not much of a case exists’ since their transactions conducted abroad cannot be scrutinized. It was obvious that assets and accounts have been maintained in the names of the children, since 2006, as part of a legally thought out strategy. And it was obvious that a ‘Compliant Commission’ is needed where these children can safely appear in front of the ‘avuncular characters’ to say whatever they want to say and the matter can be hushed up, with a funny report after several weeks or months or years.
Strategy is still the same. It is only branching out into different tactics. PM Nawaz is desperately in need of a Judicial Commission, or a Court decision, or a parliamentary committee, an APC, something that looks like a ‘forum’ from where he could safely clear his name so that few weeks or months down the line, the State Dept spokesman in Washington can say: “Well, a Commission examined the charges against the PM Nawaz and has exonerated him”.
This strategy, like all strategies of ‘rich and powerful’ in Pakistan is patently a “legal defense”. It is not about facts and reality. That means you have to challenge all allegations not as facts but as points of law. Iceland’s PM had to resign, not because of legal issues but because facts of his case created doubts and suspicions; British PM David Cameron was never defending himself legally, he bravely explained the facts. PM Nawaz’s response of the past several weeks makes it obvious that he does not feel secure or confident about disclosing the facts, so he and his team are struggling with a ‘legal strategy’ of picking up fights, of threatening media critics, of pointing out flaws, however trivial they may be and then finally hiding behind the various provisions of law inside a ‘Pakistani Commission’ where accusers will have to bring evidences, where many questions will be time barred, previous allegations however credible will be ‘past and closed transactions’ and where countless other people will be dragged to prolong the proceedings and to create the impression that allegations against PM are just a tiny part of a large public trial or investigation of hundreds of others.
It was part of this ‘strategy’ of ‘legal defense’ and media disinformation that even an editorial correction, on behalf of ICIJ, that only straightens the sentence to make it clear that PM Nawaz is implicated not because of his own account but because of his children had to be used as a ‘big development’. Purpose of crying hoarse and loud is only to mislead the poor Pakistanis that live in small towns and villages. After all the ‘Public Contact Campaign’ is not for urban intelligentsia who cannot be fooled by such ‘comedy shows’ but for more disadvantaged populations.
Otherwise the urban intelligentsia and those with access to internet and social media also remember that Russian President Putin and Chinese President, Xi Jinping are named in Panama Papers only because of the accounts and activities of their relatives. David Cameron and Argentinian President are explaining the sins of their fathers. Name of Javaid Pasha (JP) rings bells about Asif Ali Zardari and so on. The whole Panama Papers is like this. No one in the whole world has reacted the way Nawaz Sharif has done. But then no Prime Minister had ever attacked his own supreme court.
And it is common knowledge that in corrupt Asian societies, top politicians, generals and other government executives keep their ill-gotten wealth in the names of their children and their families. Arguing that I don’t have accounts in my name, but in the name of my children is a pure, quintessential legal defense. It is good for a ‘Court’ or ‘Commission’ but it is of no use in a functional democracy. In a democracy, top politicians have to come clean in front of the public, parliament and the media. PM Nawaz is simply refusing to do that. If he is still hanging on, if no one can ask him to leave, if his party and opposition, and media are all helpless; if he is not even persuaded to disclose his assets and accounts and his transactions since 1981 or 1990, then its is only because Pakistan is not a democracy. After all in UAE or Saudi Arabia, Panama Papers, is not an issue. In China, we hear, these days, you can not search ‘panama’ on internet.
Why is there the popular confusion that Pakistan is a democracy? Because we do have elections. But in a system, where government can order state broadcaster not to broadcast the parliamentary debate on ‘Panama Papers’ or can force its version on private channels, where senior bureaucrats are like ‘private servants’ or ‘naukar’ where politicians inside the political parties, like PMLN for instance, behave like the employees of a ‘private limited company’ and where party or cabinet meetings are rare and most decisions are taken by the ruling family; in short all power is vested in few hands then how fair or credible elections can be? How can this system where all powers of the state are concentrated in few hands ever throw up a “Commission” that can examine the same powers?
Panama Papers, has exposed the nature of Pakistani politics and so called ‘democracy’. Whereas democracy is the best expression of mankind’s political thought and evolution, but ruling elite in Pakistan have specialized in running ‘dynastic family control’ in the name of democracy. It is in this milieu that the debate around ‘Panama Papers’ in Pakistan has to be understood. If the opposition, the media and the aware citizens succeed in braving the storm of bluffs and lies and ‘threats’ and succeeded in forcing the PM to disclose his assets and transactions from the date he held public office then Pakistan will move on the road to become a ‘democracy’. Otherwise next elections, the elections after that and the next elections after that will all be meaningless. ‘Panama Papers’ is Pakistan democratic test.
[Note: Moeed Pirzada is leading TV Anchor & Political Commentator in Pakistan. He is Editor Strategic Affairs with Dunya News; you can find his programs and writing on his official website: www.moeedpirzada.pk and he tweets at: MoeedNj]