The Panamagate


    A case of selective morality?


    The moral outrage being expressed over the Panama Leaks seems quite selective. The prime minister and his progenies named as having off shore companies are the primary targets. But in this cacophony of protest reeking of a get Nawaz campaign the larger picture is being ignored.

    The PTI chief Imran khan is in the forefront demanding that the proposed commission to probe the 200 odd Pakistanis named in the leaks be headed by the chief justice of Pakistan. He has also threatened to launch a movement on the issue.

    Going through a lean period in politics-the party itself riven with internal dissensions and factionalism-this is a God sent opportunity for the Khan to galvanize the sagging morale of his party men. In the process dealing a death blow to the Sharifs by painting them the corruptest of the corrupts is an added bonus.

    The PTI in cahoots with the PPP vowing to eliminate corruption almost seems hypocritical. Ironically the PPP has no legs to stand on the issue.

    Its scandal ridden leadership has quite a few skeletons in its own cupboard. Party stalwart Rehman Malik, the infamous recipient of Iraqi oil for food proceeds, is also named in the list.

    The Sharifs on the other hand being defended by the likes of Danyal Aziz are not being served well either.  Instead of giving a cogent and credible defence of Hussain Sharif, Hassan Sharif and Maryam’s off shore dealings the former Musharraf minister now serving his present masters with the same vigour, has lunched a frontal attack on Imran Khan’s cancer hospital’s financial matters.

    The PTI chief might be guilty as charged about the brand of politics he practices. But even his detractors admit that he has achieved a Herculean feat by making his hospitals centers of excellence for cancer treatment in the country.  Making them controversial and dragging them into mundane politics is a disservice to the Nation.

    It will be a pity if our media punditocracy and body politics fail to see the woods for the trees. Panama leaks (more appropriately Panamagate) is a golden opportunity to examine how our politicians across the board do business or conversely how businessmen do politics.

    Behind the façade of anger being expressed over the dealings of the first family exposed in the Panama leaks the larger picture is perhaps being deliberately ignored. Those who have been engaging in a witch-hunt in the name of accountability have redoubled their efforts.

    Some smelling blood will be perfectly happy with a military takeover in the name of accountability. If that is not possible they propose a military backed constitutional change converting the parliamentary system into presidential form of government.

    How tinkering with the system will spell the end of corrupt politicians is not known. Ironically these recipes have been tried and tested in the past. Virtually all military coups in the Islamic Republic have been staged in the name of accountability and to clean the Augean stables muddied by politicians.

    Military strongmen after grabbing power almost without exception have co-opted corrupt politicians to perpetuate themselves. General Ayub Khan’s Convention Muslim league, general Zia ul Haq’s partyless system or Musharrf’s PML (Q) and Patriots were carved out from the same corrupt lot.

    Nationalized banks, government lands and other state owned perks and privileges were ruthlessly used to buy loyalties. Naturally a political edifice built on such corrupt practices has to be intrinsically amoral.

    It is owing to this inherent weakness of the system that Sharifs can claim with a straight face they have done no wrong. According to their narrative sons Hassan and Hussain are doing business abroad. However their explanations about source of their original wealth sound rather nebulous.

    Many other politicians across the political spectrum own businesses and properties abroad without having to explain the origin of their funding. Since no questions are asked under the law for money remitted from abroad, the present laws in fact encourage the practice of having shell companies or businesses broad to whiten ill gotten wealth. And all this is perfectly legal.

    Unfortunately there are no conflict of interest laws or an ethos to prevent politicians and their families from doing business.  Most politicians justify multiplying their assets in the name of meeting expenses incurred on politicking and lavishly spending on their election campaigns.

    Nothing stops the politician or his family from running multifarious businesses and industrial empires at home or abroad. Notwithstanding Imran Khan’s holier than thou attitude, he has quite a few stalwarts in his own fold with very deep pockets,

    Although personally not corrupt Khan or his family does not own or run a business like his counterparts in other parties. But he lives and moves like the rest of the rich and famous. In fact there is schism in his own party – no matter how much unjustified-of more than proportionate influence of the more privileged elite members of his party.

    Notwithstanding the probity of forming an independent judicial commission to probe those named in the Panama leaks the need for anti money laundering and conflict of interest laws cannot be over emphasized here.

    There are various models in democratic countries –presidential and parliamentary- that need to be studied and replicated. Apart from financial forensics, this should be part of the terms of reference of the proposed judicial commission.

    History and fate of high level commissions in Pakistan is quite unsavory. They are viewed as a ploy by politicians to sweep thorny and complicated issues that beg an answer under the carpet.

    The fate of Hamood Ur Rehman Commission to probe the causes behind dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971 is well known. More recently the Abbotabad Commission to inquire into the circumstances of Osama bin Laden taken out from his abode in Abbotabad in May 2011 by US Navy seals met the same fate. The so-called Model Town Commission formed by the Punjab government to investigate the massacre in front of Tahir ul Qadri’ s headquarters in Model Town Lahore in June 2014 also proved to be a wild goose chase.

    So why would Panamagate commission would be any different?  Eventually another burning issue will overtake the 24/7 news cycle and our fickle media will shift its focus leaving the Panama leaks for the rearview mirror.

    If the opposition really means business it should coalesce to press for fresh legislation to make the system transparent and accountable. But who is going to bell the cat? Certainly not those who are a direct beneficiary of the corrupt system. Across the board, there are no holy cows in our present political milieu.

    Our present ruling elite claims ad nauseam that Pakistan is a safe haven for foreign direct investment. A lot of political mileage is perhaps justifiably accrued from CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor).  Nonetheless their offsprings are not good poster boys for investing in Pakistan, keeping all their wealth abroad.