The political economy behind the Panama saga

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Moving forward, hindsight is 20/20

 

Unfortunately, Imran Khan’s message resonated only to a comparatively small populace which existed in the whole country but not enough to win sufficient seats; or may be enough to get some recognisable votes in each constituency but not enough votes to win.

 

The panama saga has become the most intriguing part of our political history and the events are still unfolding like a Pandora’s Box. The Aisha Gulalai issue, filing of references again Shahid Khaqan, special arrangements for House of Nawaz’s NAB cases proves that this issue is not going to die soon. Probably this was the first issue which not only divided the masses but made a sharp division between the media houses and intelligentsia as well.

However, none of the sides was expecting such a stern decision by the Honourable judiciary. Ironically, it was not based on any corruption evidence but rather concealing of receivables considered as assets and the alleged corruption cases were referred to the NAB. Any politically naïve person can observe that there was no case of any corruption in the last four years of N – League’s rule in the federal government and the last five years rule in the Punjab government. Neither was there any case of nepotism or the misuse of power at the federal government, unlike former PPP government.  So what was the actual issue and what was the support base behind those who wanted such a change?

Some people assume that the powerful institutions of this country were behind this supposedly judicial coup. If we take this assumption to be true then why once former frenemies became so clear enemies. The reasons behind it are not that simplistic as much are assumed to be. It is not only about power sharing or institutional interests. Along with these things, it is about suspicion as well. Army since long, has a deep suspicion about those politicians who want to normalise relations with India. They are seen as someone who have some kind of vested interest in India or those who can act against the “national security interest”. Army surely wants the country to develop as is evident from its CPEC efforts, operation in Karachi and a concerted effort for eliminating terrorism but is ready to sacrifice country’s development and political stability if any one acts against its perceived “national security interest” and is ready for any kind of political maneuvering to give that person a lifelong lesson. Army has to find its allies among masses as well to give its political maneuvering some sort of political legitimacy, and it finds its natural allies among the professional middle class. And here comes the underlying class struggles between different social and economic classes of the country which are also reflected in the political vendettas.

Assuming the conspiracy theory of military junta involvement holds some truth, the question which arises is that will it bring any good to the country? Will it put an end to financial corruption and bring across the board accountability? If yes, then will the powerful military elite would stop protecting Musharraf so that the civilian government can put him under the trial?

 

The professional middle class which includes doctors, lawyers, chartered accountants, entrepreneurs, corporate managers, professors and many other educated professions are usually those people who came from the lower middle class or the middle class and moved up the social and economic ladder through their sheer hard work, merit, persistence and those qualities which are the basis of a meritocratic capitalistic society. Their interaction with state system is usually limited to the basic agent the of state’s public service delivery system e.g. for service utility meters installation, getting a passport, or filing an FIR in case of any street crime. Their experience with the state public service delivery system is very loathing. This adds to the general perception of the government being inefficient and corrupt so the response about the government and the ruling political parties was always very negative within this class and they were always very much alienated with the political system. Further, they are against the dynastic rule but unfortunately both the previous major parties were political dynasties. Their aspirations of a clean, transparent government and of a country where meritocracy prevails, stems from their own experience of climbing the social and economic ladder through hard work and meritocracy. They earned their money through hard work and not through corruption so they always want a government where everyone has to pass through the same process to move up the ladder. Unfortunately, this was and still, is not the norm in Pakistan. Imran Khan gave them the hope that he will be able to do so; to eliminate financial corruption and bring the system of meritocracy in Pakistan. Where just like the middle class ethos, people will only be able to move up the economic and social ladder through hard work and meritocracy. Unfortunately, Imran Khan’s message resonated only to a comparatively small populace which existed in the whole country but not enough to win sufficient seats; or may be enough to get some recognisable votes in each constituency but not enough votes to win.

In all the process, one party which lost the control was PPP. The reason was that it failed to formulate it’s message which could resonate with the new social and economic realities of Pakistan’s biggest province, Punjab, from where they had to get the majority votes to form a federal government. Punjab was no longer a feudal landscape wanting Roti, Kapra aur Makaan (Bread, Cloth, and House) but a middle class landscape which wanted a transparent and meritocratic state where they get fully the rewards of their hard work and talent without any financial corruption. But, the failure of PPP meant the victory of someone else as well. PTI found another old ally against the house of Nawaz, the PPP veterans. These stalwarts, which included former ministers, had to adjust to the new realities of their constituencies and consequently decided to join PTI which meant that PTI could expand its rural base as well. Although there was a lot of noise of by the house of Nawaz to discredit this move by PTI but they were not able to make a dent in the loyal base of PTI voter. Simply, because PTI voter had no other option. They could not support the dynastic house of Nawaz, PPP’s message did not resonated with them, and other than PTI there was no other option available.

And here came another natural ally i.e. Army. The perception of the middle class regarding the army is that it is still the most organised and least corrupt institution in the country, at least at the personal or individual level. They also feel aligned with the army as army’s structure is also based on meritocracy, transparency, and hard work and oblivious of any dynastic rule. So among all the state institutions they feel most close to the army. Army on the other hand, also knows how to use this affinity for their own self-interest and sells its national security narrative to the professional middle class through the media which they consume and other tactics. Why the professional middle class buys this narrative? The only explanation could be that army adds a tinge of patriotism to it and middle class all over the world, is known to be hyper nationalist.

So, what actually happened in the case of Nawaz is that the interests of three social and economic classes, the state institutions, the professional urban middle class and the anti N League veteran rural elite were converged in one single interest; to oust Mr. Nawaz. Assuming the conspiracy theory of military junta involvement holds some truth, the question which arises is that will it bring any good to the country? Will it put an end to financial corruption and bring across the board accountability? If yes, then will the powerful military elite would stop protecting Musharraf so that the civilian government can put him under the trial? Corruption is not only about financial matters. It is also about abuse of power. Or, will this decision bring any economic development? The country, in the last four years, was certainly on the right track, at least in matters of economic development. The GDP was highest in the last 10 years and that’s what the businesses, entrepreneurs, and most importantly, a common man wants; to solve his own economic woes. Even if Imran Khan comes to power, what is the guarantee that he will act in accordance with the wishes of the powerful military elite? And if he will not act, then will the boys and the judges again try to oust him? What will then happen to the economy and polity of the country? Will it remain stable? Our professional urban middle should also retrospect itself and understand the fact that propaganda needs to be filtered out from the information, that ousting Mr. Nawaz politically would be more beneficial for the democratic process rather than through judiciary or any other state institution. And that building relationship with India is not a bane, it could be a boon as well.