In ideal circumstances, the Panama Leaks are controversial enough for the prime minister to resign. While having an offshore account is legal and may not amount to corruption, it raises a serious question over the moral authority of the PM, who is expected to lead by example. The chairman of the PTI, hence, isn’t wrong to ask for explanations from the government, but when it comes to him giving references of the Western countries and the standards that they are following, there is a slight problem.
In Pakistan, we don’t have the ideal circumstances, nor are we a developed country that has strong government institutions, or the democratic maturity to change the top leadership that is holding together, not only the largest political party, but the entire country, in these unusual times. In a country where children are being killed at the hands of terrorists and many more dying through malnourishment, and where we still debate whether women should have basic protection against abuse, we are far from the ideal circumstances.
Hence, people wrongly comparing the resignation of Iceland’s premier as a case to be followed in Pakistan, are missing the fact that we live in far difficult times than countries of the West, which have stability and democratic maturity to remove the top leadership without destabilising the country.
The unfortunate reality is that there is much more at stake in Pakistan than the Panama Leaks. The country has taken decades to arrive at a civil-military trust in fighting terrorism; the economy is finally showing some progress, and democracy is taking roots, despite all the controversies, and at the centre of it all is the current PM. The question isn’t whether the PM should resign or not, but whether the country is in a position to afford such a shake-up.
For idealists, the resignation would bring accountability, strengthen democracy, and send out a positive message to the world. In reality, political instability will plague Pakistan’s development and hinder the fight against terrorism for another decade — a decade that many political pundits across the world have predicted could break Pakistan if political instability continues. For us then, it is not about accountability, but more about survival.
It is, hence, for the sake of political stability and for the creation of ideal circumstances that one chooses to turn a blind eye to the leaks, with a belief that strengthening democracy, at this stage, surpasses everything else.
What is troubling is that even the calls for the PM’s resignation are nothing short of political point-scoring. One must choose between a one-off resignation of a PM, pushed by political interests of the few, or greater political stability, which will lead to a sustainable environment and institutions, thus leaving the PM with no option but to resign on his own.
In Pakistan, for the longest time, we have responded with knee-jerk reactions, and preferred quick fixes, instead of letting the system work in its own time to bring structural changes. What the Panama Leaks, hence, reveal, more than corruption or tax evasion, is precisely this political instability and unpredictability in Pakistan, that made the family of the PM invest abroad in case of things going wrong. And given that the political history of Pakistan is plagued with military coups and the overthrow of civilian governments, it is unfortunate that even the PM’s family had a ‘back up’ option.
While the Panama Leaks reveal the Sharif family, leaks from Dubai, Cayman Islands, London and elsewhere may reveal many other politicians, military generals and so on.
As much as one would like the PM to resign for having his family named in the Panama Leaks, the circumstances require him to stay and move forward. Not all battles are worth fighting, and some battles are left for the right time. And now is not the right time.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 9th, 2016.
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