When Panama Papers came to the fore they provided a good starting point to initiate discussion on structural reforms that could prevent abuse of office and prevalent corruption in our system. The list contained names of only a few politicians but was largely dominated by oligarchs. Our position since the beginning until now has been that all those listed in Panama Papers should be investigated and those found of tax evasion, money laundering, and corruption should be prosecuted.
But elected parliamentarians and party heads that are responsible for legislation and structural changes were incapable to deal with the task as some of the oligarchs listed in Panama Papers provide resources and support to almost all political parties. Eventually, opposition politicians led by Imran Khan and Siraj ul Haq used the opportunity to beat down the government in power. It was the same attitude shown by Nawaz Sharif in the 1990s and during the memogate crisis in the last PPP tenure. But this time he faced the wrath of the opposition politicians.
In pursuing Panama Papers Imran Khan and Siraj ul Haq promised that their campaign is against the corruption of all rather than an opportunist approach to weaken their opponent. They repeatedly stated that accountability should start with the political elite and once they are punished then they would lead the campaign against 430 other names included in Panama Papers. They acted as spokesmen for Supreme Court and JIT. Supreme Court eventually announced its verdict on July 28th by disqualifying an elected Prime Minister interestingly not to use Panama Papers but for some other information revealed by Joint Investigation Team (JIT). It has since been almost two months but Imran Khan and Siraj ul Haq have not filed any petition invoking article 184(3) to seek the formation of a JIT to prosecute 430 other people listed in Panama Papers. It is this kind of hypocritical behavior that has earned them a perception of being puppets of someone else rather than true crusaders against corruption.
Some sections of electronic media that presented themselves as crusaders against corruption and their elitist intellectual supporters are also quiet about pursuing the formation of JIT for all other names in Panama. Their focus and aim seem to be to create a perception that only politicians are corrupt and hence to save the country there is a need for a clean technocratic government to be imposed on our heads.
Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen Qamar Bajwa met with parliamentarians this week and once again assured that military had no role in the ouster of an elected Prime Minister. He expressed his faith and resolve to protect democracy. Gen Bajwa leads an institution which means that his personal views have limited influence and are subservient to the views and approach of the institution he leads. There are two constituents of the institution lead by Gen Bajwa which are serving and retired army officers. During Panama Papers investigation overwhelming majority of ex-serviceman wanted disqualification of the elected Prime Minister as was evident from their messages and discussion in WhatsApp groups and other social media. When Supreme Court announced the formation of a JIT in which Military Intelligence (MI) and ISI were given seats, was it possible for Gen Bajwa to defy this constituency and refuse to be part of a JIT that would create the perception of military involvement in politics? I doubt it. Many of us opposed that MI and ISI had no role in a purely civilian matter that did not concern the mandate assigned to the military which is to secure the country against foreign aggression. There was institutional pressure on Gen Bajwa to accept the role in JIT and he did. Now there is increasing chatter among ex-servicemen and their intellectual supporters that the country needs installation of a technocratic government.
Gen Bajwa has an opportunity to completely remove the perception that military will interfere directly in the democratic process. He should issue a categorical statement that military will not support any technocratic government that is not installed through a democratic process outlined in the constitution. Only a government that has mandate from the people has the legitimate authority to make critical decision for the nation. He should also tell Gen Musharraf, as a former COAS, to come back to the country and face courts in all cases filed against him. Respect of courts and rule of law is not just the responsibility of politicians but should be expressed by all segments of the society and power elites.
Finally, our politicians seem to be frozen with fear to act to strengthen democratic system. We have proposed a limited dialogue before we enter next election cycle. There are many important questions to be addressed before we seek a fresh mandate from people including the appointment of Chairman NAB. We have initiated consultation of possible names and will send it the parliamentary parties soon. We oppose the appointment of NAB chairman by Supreme Court as it is the function and mandate of the parliament, as per the constitution, to make an appointment. Politicians failure to address national issues will provide bases for the future interim government to extend its tenure and act unilaterally to address those important questions.
By Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi