Reinventing politics of ‘70s and ‘90s
The opposition in Pakistan is poised to pressurise the government through public rallies to frame Terms of Reference (ToRs) for the judicial commission. The ruling party of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has also decided to start a public contact campaign, and has announced that the prime minister would address public meetings throughout Pakistan, starting with Imran Khan’s home ground, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Amazingly, both sides of the divide give no sense at all if they are posturing, as normally political parties do at the time of the elections.
On Friday, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif addressed the nation, and to defuse the pressure, announced that he would write a letter to the Chief Justice of Pakistan regarding the formation of an inquiry commission to probe the allegations in the Panama Papers leaks. The ministry of law and justice immediately issued a notification, which also mentioned the ToRs that have already been rejected by the opposition parties.
In addition to examining the information related to the involvement of Pakistani citizens, persons of Pakistan origin, and legal entities in offshore companies in Panama or in any other country, the judicial commission would also look into the involvement of former and present holders of public office in getting their bank loans or those of their immediate family members written off using political influence. The opposition leaders have rejected the ToRs, and the formation of the commission under the Pakistan Commission of Inquiry Act 1956, which they allege is being done for ulterior motives. Another point being raised is that instead of confining the probe to the present and past rulers, the commission has been assigned many tasks, such as probing thousands of persons and entities who got their loans written off. The opposition parties demand that the government include the investigations by international auditors and forensic experts in the ToRs.
Prime Minister Sharif, who is otherwise mostly calm and composed, lost his cool and made personal attacks on his opponents during the address to the nation. It was an ill-advised speech, which was reflective of the mentality of his advisors. Without taking Imran Khan’s name, he made personal attacks, and passed acerbic remarks against Khan. After the Kargil episode when differences had emerged between civil and military leadership, the then PML-N information minister and a few others had advised Sharif to ‘fix up’ some generals to show them who the ‘boss’ was. In his address on Friday, Sharif asked who would question those who overthrew his government, registered a case of plane hijacking, and passed the 17th amendment. It appears that his advisors are upping the ante, and reinventing the politics of 1970s and 1990s, fraught with extreme dangers.
Leader of the Opposition Khursheed Shah, Chairman Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Imran Khan and other leaders have rejected the ToRs, which they argue should have been decided with the consent of the opposition parties. According to the renowned legal and constitutional expert, Salman Akram Raja, the process of probing 220 people whose names have been mentioned in the Panama Papers may take 50 years. Instead of confining the probe to the present and past rulers, the commission has been assigned many tasks such as probing thousands of persons and entities who got their loans written off using their clout with the ruling parties. Though the information minister, Pervez Rashid and other PML-N leaders say that the proposed judicial commission has been mandated to appoint international auditors and forensic experts, that has not been included in the ToRs issued by the government.
Meanwhile, the PML-N has decided to take the matter to the people of Pakistan and chalked out a plan to hold public meetings throughout Pakistan. It has to be mentioned here that in 1977 the Pakistan National Alliance had taken out rallies against poll-rigging, and as a reaction to that, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) also started staging rallies, which led to confrontation and loss of life. The PPP had agreed to hold re-election on 35 seats, but due to prolonged talks the law and order situation had become serious, and the country was facing anarchy. It was in this backdrop that General Zia-ul-Haq imposed martial law in Pakistan. There is a perception that statements by the COAS General Raheel Sharif have been instrumental in the alteration of stance by the government, resulting in the decision to form a commission to be headed by the Chief Justice of Pakistan.
On last Tuesday, General Sharif said: “Across the board accountability is necessary for the solidarity, integrity and prosperity of Pakistan, and war against terror cannot be won unless the menace of corruption is uprooted. Pakistan’s armed forces will fully support every meaningful effort in that direction, which would ensure a better future for our next generations.” He offered all-out cooperation of the armed forces to purge the country of the scourge of corruption. He declared that there was a need to have across the board accountability, and he started it from his own institution. Within 48 hours of the above-mentioned statement, six military officers were dismissed from service after a court of inquiry found them at fault. One three-star general, one two-star general, three brigadiers and one colonel were sacked for abuse of authority and amassing illegal wealth; and their ranks and benefits have also been revoked.
Last year, General Sharif had also given go-ahead to the National Accountability Bureau for inquiry into the DHA scam, involving brothers of the former COAS, Ashfaq Pervez Kayani. In August 2015, two retired generals were punished for corruption amounting to Rs 4.3 billion in the National Logistic Cell, forfeiting their ranks, decorations, medals, honours, awards, seizure of pension, recovery of personal gains, cancellation of service benefits and all other allied facilities. With his actions, General Sharif has proved that there is no ‘holy cow’ that cannot be touched or talked about.