Bizarre tidings

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“The moon rode in the sky – a hunted thing dodging behind wisps of tattered cloud, and the air was heavy and wet and redolent of dying leaves.”

Jane Dixon Rice ‘The Refugee’

 

 

A new kind of rationale, rather weird if one may, appears to be evolving in Pakistan: a rationale which, if accepted, would eliminate the already much chequered line that separates right from wrong.

When questions are raised with regard to the Panama Papers and the contagious mention of the prime minister’s family in having set up off-shore companies using illicit monies, a vast band of cronies is out promoting the bridges, the motorways, the metros, the orange trains, and the like. Voices raised regarding the source/s of the huge amounts invested abroad are drowned in the ceaseless clamour about the unprecedented progress the country is making. Enquiries whether taxes were paid on the amounts transferred out of Pakistan are met with a deafening crescendo about the CPEC heralding a paradigm change. Demands to trace the channel/s used for transferring the capital outside are met with a letter to the CJ asking to set up an innocuous commission that can sit in perpetuity trying to investigate a host of alleged financial crimes stretching back to times immemorial. When it is said that the Panama Papers is not the invention of an opposition party, it is alleged that there is a conspiracy afoot to sabotage the progress the country is making. And, beat this, in response to a unified demand for initiating a transparent process of accountability in earnest beginning with the prime minister and his family, the opposition parties are dubbed as ‘terrorists’.

What’s happening? If such line of crooked logic were to become a handy tool of all and sundry, then every alleged criminal will demand that he be allowed to nominate his court, every thief will cite the hunger of his children as alibi for having committed the theft, and every murderer will take refuge behind honour and such other grotesque reasons to justify his heinous crime. What is it that has spun a web of unbelievable paranoia among the government ranks?

The simple question that has come about in the wake of the Panama Papers is to establish whether the monies invested in off-shore accounts by the prime minister’s family were legitimately earned, whether appropriate taxes were paid on these earnings, and whether these were transferred out of Pakistan in a legal manner. Does citing the construction of bridges and motorways, setting up of energy projects, running orange trains and metros, and other such stuff, make for a legitimate quid pro quo for expecting that the alleged corruption and transgressions of the ruling family be forgiven and forgotten? If this not be the case, why is there a maniac preoccupation with trying to hide behind the edifice of proclaimed development projects, some real and some imaginary, in a bid to push the wraps around the question of the alleged corruption of the prime minister and his family? Quite obviously, the tell-tale marks tracing the illicit trail of the financial transactions would be visible even to the blind. So, is this the reason behind the strategy of trying to put off the issue for as long as possible? And, can the gambit actually avert the inevitable?

In a genuine democratic polity, this uncalled for procrastination would be intolerable. No shenanigans will be accommodated and no respite allowed other than what is legitimately granted in the statute books. And, like in Iceland, if the leader’s family were accused of involvement in an act of violation of the state laws, he would bow out voluntarily as unquestioned submission before the democratic dispensation. But, what of a leadership that wears the apparel of democracy only to hide the dictator’s spots which are so deeply engraved?

This appears to be an endless circus with the government trying to trade off its illicit corruption in exchange for the development schemes it has unveiled in the country. May be, this could have been consummated quite effortlessly, but for the timing of the episode. At stake are the results of the state assembly elections in Azad Kashmir and, after a brief hiatus, the fate of the political parties will be determined in the general elections in early 2018. That’s why the opposition, sensing its chance to improve its grading, appears to be rather unified and have come up with their version of the Terms of Reference for the envisaged commission.

Simultaneously, they have refused to accept a body which may be set up by the Chief Justice in line with the directives sent by the government. The 7-question indictment of the prime minister effectively brings us to the brink of a clash between the opposition which is trying to drive home a moral advantage while hiding its skeletons in the closets, and the government which is trying to build a protective wall around its multifaceted misconduct and misdemeanour.

The SC’s refusal to set up a commission is a stinging blow to the prime minister and his pathetic cronies to hide behind the edifice of other institutions of the state doing their sinister bidding. In a communication sent to the law secretary, the SC opined that “Formation of commission of enquiry under the Pakistan Commission of Enquiry Act 1956, looking to its limited scope, will result in the constitution of a toothless commission which will serve no useful purpose, except giving bad name to it”.

The SC also had reservations about the government’s Terms of Reference: “The Terms of Reference are so wide and open-ended that, prima facie, it may take years together for the commission to conclude its proceedings”.

The SC observation is generally being viewed as a moral victory of the opposition, but it also poses a challenge to them in terms of their sincerity in initiating a genuine and across-the-board process of accountability in the country. Some may stink from a million miles away, but no one’s hands are completely clean of the fungus of corruption. While the prime minister has to come up with a credible and sustainable response to a string of piercing questions, the opposition stalwarts should also submit themselves before the diktat of law and be ready to bear the consequences. The state has endured the burden of their misdeeds for an inordinately long period and is wobbling precariously under its illicit weight. It can endure it no further. It must be released of the burden of corruption.

The COAS has further upped the ante. In a meeting with the prime minister recently, he has reportedly asked him to get the Panama Papers controversy out of the way as it was impacting national security and taking the attention away from the more pressing issues the country was facing. The government’s lopsided denial and the leaked audio bit raise further questions.

The Panama Papers controversy is alive and kicking. With the SC refusal to form a commission as per the government’s bidding, it has only assumed more centrality and relevance. The questions that will continue to haunt the prime minister and his family encompass the origin of the funds, details of taxes paid and the mode of transfer of funds out of Pakistan for off-shore investment. He cannot evade his responsibility of providing cogent and credible answers. The more he tries to hedge, the more pressure he’ll feel. The questions will stick and a default in providing an adequate response will, ipso facto, reflect the guilt of the person involved, nothing less.