Panama and our morality crisis – Imtiaz Gul

(Originally Published in Daily  Times, Pakistan)

Pakistan’s ruling elite is not known for drawing moral lessons from its experiences.

The elite know that its money and muscle can help it find its way through the system with the help of highly-paid barristers on its side. When barristers represent tainted property tycoons only to please their political bosses or when they take up cases only to fatten their bank accounts, one can rest assured that there is little room in the country for principles and morality.

Against this context, it should be obvious that the Panama Papers case before the Supreme Court was never just a legal battle. As seen over the course of several months, lawyers defending the ruling party had multiple tricks up their sleeves to drag the proceedings. They even deployed dirty tricks such as the submission before the bench of a letter from a notorious Qatari prince.

The case should not be seen as having a political impact either. The divided opposition never represented a real threat to the ruling PML-N. The party’s majority in the Punjab and the National assemblies, won through a politics of patronage mastered over the past three decades, gives the Sharif brothers enough confidence to ignore dissenting voices in and out of the Parliament. What matters most to them is protection of their political empire and business interests. Personal honour and integrity hardly seems to be a concern to them.

Yet, the dominant majority of frustrated and helpless Pakistanis still aspire for a society where rule of law can be applied to the mighty as well as the weak.

Those of us hoping that the Supreme Court could possibly rattle the consciences of those under question seem to have been proved wrong.

Those unending arguments before the Court had essentially stemmed from a crisis of moral integrity ailing our ruling elite. For the elite, what matters is the parliamentary majority alone. Moral authority seems to be of no relevance to them.

That is why all hopes and expectations of a consequential judgment in the Panama Papers case were really a case of wishful thinking. Our society’s ruling elite thrives on the nexus between politics, business and civil-military bureaucracy. This nexus is too strong to ignore. It seems even the courts think several times before daring to “set a dangerous precedent” such as disqualifying the prime minister over financial fraud and deceitful conduct.

There were plenty of examples from around the globe where incumbents faced with public criticism over corruption charges had bowed out of politics or even ended their lives to salvage some pride.

In 1986, a chief minister of a Federal German province Uwe Barschel had taken his life after it was proven that he had lied under oath. Another German statesman Willy Brandt had instantly resigned from his party office over criticisms regarding “willful decisions and nepotism.” In February 2012, a German leader, former president Christian Wolff, had tendered his resignation after prosecutors asked the Parliament – the Bundestag – to end his immunity from prosecution over accusations of improper ties to businessmen.

The writer is Executive Director, CRSS. 

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