In the clash of individual and institutional egos, a critical lesson is being lost. Let’s try finding it.
Panama leaks has burst upon a wary Pakistani electorate like a tactical stink bomb. But as weeks slip by, and the mushroom cloud spreads, the tactical nature of the assault may be transforming into a strategic one. There’s clearly more at stake now than the fate of the First Family.
The usual suspects are now slowly — and some deliberately — sinking knee and elbow deep into murky waters: there’s the Opposition Disunited gunning for the premier, there’s the army high command glowering ominously, and now there’s the Supreme Court bracing for the commission. Yet again, Pakistan teeters on the brink of political regicide; yet again, Pakistanis watch the political drama play out like a bad production.
And yet it need not be a repeat show. For buried deep within the folds of this latest political upheaval is a silver lining waiting to see the light of day. But how?
In order to unveil it, first we must remove the clutter. There’s plenty that has piled up the last two weeks, thanks mainly to the competing, conflicting and contrasting agendas revolving around Panama Leaks. Complicating matters further is the muddle-headed approach of the government itself.
An ill-thought out counteroffensive against Shaukat Khanum hospital, a completely ridiculous protest outside Imran Khan’s ex-wife’s home in London and two rambling addresses to the nation have all confirmed the suspicion that the First Family has something to hide. Suddenly the iron men of PML-N appear to have grown feet of clay. The smugness they wore like a badge of honour has slipped away like a wax mask. Gone are the smirks, boasts and snide remarks. Now all you see on the faces of PML-N grandees are scowls, dread and trepidation.
And hence PML-N will go into survival mode: attack and obfuscate. This approach may have arguably served the PML-N in the past, but it wrecks that ephemeral notion of political maturity.
Here’s what the PML-N should do, or be forced to do under pressure: Engage the opposition in reviewing Terms of Reference (TORs) if necessary; ensure the commission is fully empowered to summon people regardless of their rank, order state institutions to cough up records when required, hire international agencies to track the money trail, and do whatever else is necessary to establish if and how any wrongdoing was done; and desist from any political games aimed at pressuring the commission or any other relevant stakeholder in any way.
That’s a tall order.
Remember the silver lining though? If this has to unveil its sparkling self, the PML-N has to put its money where its mouth is i.e., prove to us all it has acquired the kind of political maturity and national vision that a party as old and established as itself should have. We would all like to believe that Pakistan has moved on since the destructive, zero-sum politics of the past; we would like to believe Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has matured from the trials and tribulations of the last three decades; and we would love to believe that most of us now believe that transparency in the affairs of the state, and the affairs of those who run the state is essential for the modern Pakistan that we believe is shaping up.
That said, let’s cut to the chase: the Panama leaks scandal must not be used as a bludgeon to get rid of a democratically elected government.
In the clutter that dominates the media, this simple message is lost. Yes, it is lost because there is a deliberate attempt by the vested interests to drag the government down and pave the way for this, that or the other. Nothing could be more damaging for the democratic project.
The only legitimate way for the government to be removed is 1) vote of no-confidence 2) in-house change 3) prime minister himself advises for the dissolution of the government and the National Assembly and calls for mid-term elections, 4) the prime minister resigns and is replaced by someone else from his party of his allied party.
There is no other legal way. Talk about the Kakar formula, national government etc., is all unconstitutional — and just because these options have been experimented with in the past does not make them kosher.
Once we remove the clutter that bangs and clangs with allegations, accusations and wild speculations, we are left with a brutally clear picture: either prove the First Family has broken the laws of the land and convict them in the court of law, or let the prime minister complete his five-year term.
And so we return to the silver lining: proving the First Family guilty, or not, in a purely legal sense will require a water-tight legal process. This in itself is unprecedented, as is the accountability underway in the army. These are the hallmarks of a system maturing under pressure; these are the signs of political competition leading to unwitting reform and transparency; these are the signs of Pakistanis upping the ante for leaders and high officials to conduct the business of state in a transparent manner.
The silver lining will unveil itself when a powerful commission is constituted as a result of competing pressures, and it operates under TORs that can produce substantive results. The silver lining will unveil itself when this commission holds hearings that are reported and dissected and as a result the high and the mighty are forced to prove to the world matters that they have guarded jealously. The silver lining will unveil itself when the inadequacies of our own investigating agencies are laid bare in front of the commission for all to see; and when there will be renewed pressure from everywhere to reform and restructure these agencies. The silver lining will unveil itself when intense scrutiny on a weakened government will ensure no direct or indirect pressures are allowed to influence the commission in any way. The silver lining will be when the armed forces — for whatever reason — continue to cleanse their own stables and pry open their doors for greater public scrutiny.
The final silver lining however will be the one that will serve Pakistan best regardless of the final outcome of the Panama leaks: that we played by the rules of the game and did not opt for shortcuts. The glass may yet be half full.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 24th, 2016.
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