The Panama Scandal has been bedevilling Pakistan’s politics for more than a year now and remains the main cause of continued political uncertainty, confrontation and instability in the land of the pure. The sooner this scandal gets a closure, the better it will be for the country, which desperately needs a healing touch to end fissures within the ruling elite and its overall polity.
According to a federal minister, who is close to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the government is now in the state of near paralysis. “Most of the ministers feel powerless and directionless as the prime minister seems to have lost control and focus,” he said requesting anonymity. “The bureaucracy is dragging its feet on every file and nothing that is important is being done.”
The general mood in the federal capital is indeed ominous.
A small section of the ruling party stalwarts is in a bitter and a fighting mood – just like Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his close family members. They are attacking the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) members – and even the honourable Supreme Court judges in their press talks and off-the-record sessions for probing into the offshore wealth and assets of the ruling family. The aim appears to make the JIT and the superior judiciary controversial.
The negativity – which has seeped into the mind-set of the PML-N camp at every level – was reflected when Nawaz Sharif called the JIT a joke on his arrival in London on June 25th while addressing the media. No wonder majority of the other Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) lawmakers and even many cabinet members feel alienated and are trying to gauge the direction of the wind.
The political uncertainty seems to compound itself when even some known pro-government media persons start acknowledging that Sharifs are in a tight corner and remain visibly jittery.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) and other main opposition parties, including the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) leadership claim that the game seems to be over for the prime minister. With the JIT all set to present its fourth and final report before the three-member Supreme Court bench on July 10, they predict that it is only a matter of a few more weeks before the curtain will fall on Nawaz Sharif’s third stint as prime minister.
They claim that Sharifs presented the same evidence before the JIT which failed to satisfy the five-member Supreme Court bench that gave a divided verdict and the formation of the JIT. Top lawyers say that the onus of providing the money trail for their offshore wealth, companies and assets, including the apartments in London, fell on the ruling family.
But apart from the politics of allegations and counter allegations and claims and counter claims, the JIT and the Supreme Court have already made history by at least forcing a sitting prime minister and his family to answer the allegations of corruption against them. Whatever may be the outcome of the case – whether in favour or against Sharif and his family – the Supreme Court has set this precedent of far reaching impact in our politics.
The general mood in the federal capital is indeed ominous
Although it is far from a perfect beginning, it is a good start. The wheel of accountability will and should not stop at the Sharifs now, but continue to move and take other member of the country’s ruling elite in its ambit for corruption and for the abuse of power.
The credit must go first to the PTI and its allies, especially the tenacious Imran Khan, and also to the media for keeping up the pressure and keeping the issue of Panama Scandal alive. Their efforts have created awareness among the masses. Now the present and future public office holders – at every level – will have to remain under the dread of exposure all the time. These are the positive takeaways of the Panama Scandal. Going forward, Pakistan needs sweeping reforms to ensure that the opposition need not hold protests and show street power to hold the corrupt accountable but the regulatory and law enforcement authorities come into action on their own.
For this, institutions like the Security and Exchange Commission of Pakistan, the Federal Board of Revenue, the Accountability Bureau and the Federal Investigation Agency just not need an overhaul but given operational independence and autonomy and from political interference.
It is indeed a tall order, but a beginning has to be made. The Panama Scandal has set the ball rolling. Sharifs and all those in the parliament or inspiring to be there in future, need to read the writing on the wall. They would have to answer for their crimes of omission and commission sooner or later.