Post-Nawaz Pakistan – Accountability and Political Brinkmanship

panama-1The famous (as well as infamous) ‘Panama/Iqama’ verdict that sent Prime Minister Nawaz home last week is a political ‘gift that keeps on giving’. Where Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was sworn in as the new Prime Minister of Pakistan yesterday, PTI and its chairman Imran Khan also came under the scanner after serious allegations were levelled against him by a female member of the party. Yet, amidst this political chaos, government’s transition remained the highlight of the day.

In this transition and change, one thing that remained unchanged was the unabashed criticism on the Supreme Court and its judges by members of the ruling party, including the newly sworn-in Prime Minister. Also, there remains a clear polarisation on the decision, with one camp calling it a victory for rule of law and accountability, whereas the other camp – citing weak nature of conviction – is calling it a judicial coup under a greater conspiracy against the Sharif Family.

Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML –N) was disqualified on account of non-declaration of assets, which, according to the court’s order, was an ‘account receivable’ – and therefore an asset – from an offshore company owned by his son that he failed to declare in his nomination papers. The Judges, hence, invoked the Articles 62/63 of the national constitution that deal with the honesty, morality and truthfulness of the members of the legislature.

Experts and analysts in Pakistan also likened the PM’s conviction to that of Al Capone – the famous American gangster. Capone was nabbed for a petty offense of tax evasion, as the authorities had failed to convict him for any of his other major offenses and crimes. Similarly, Nawaz was accused of money laundering and owning properties worth millions of pounds in the United Kingdom. Yet, the final verdict of the Supreme Court cited Nawaz’s non-declaration of a mere 2700 USD (10,000 AED) salary from an offshore firm in the United Arab Emirates.

Also, various opinions have also surfaced in both national and international news outlets. Not only that, famous journalists and historians of Pakistan have also had their say on the matter. One quote doing rounds on google groups dated 29th July, was by veteran left wing journalist Husain Naqi – imprisoned during military and ‘civilian’ martial laws – that beautifully summed up the current political situation in the country.

 “Many democracy lovers and votaries appear to believe that democracy and corruption are synonymous and judicial verdicts against elected office holders are mischief of the military dominated establishment. It is a misgiving. I consider that it is the fallout of military takeovers by usurper generals. However, Prime Minister Nawaz who was inducted into political office/s by a late intelligence chief has been acting quixotically when he challenges the adversary. The establishment enjoys political power without an organised political party thanks to the electables (who fly away whenever they find that their ‘leader’ has lost the establishment’s patronage). How can one challenge an organised well-oiled and well-armed disciplined body’s top brass? Civilian supremacy can only be established through organised political parties who are able to mobilise people for mass political movements.”

This quote by a veteran and known left wing journalist exemplifies Pakistan’s current socio-political landscape; a functional democracy with considerable trappings of a plutocracy. The families of recently disqualified PM Nawaz, former president Asif Ali Zardari, his spouse’s family Bhuttos, and a few other are all but a few of those plutocrats who rule the roost in Pakistan.

These are also politically mighty and financially affluent dynasties that buy and bully voters. Of course not all of them. Many are driven only either by the person or the party ideology, or for sheer hatred of others. The military establishment’s direct and indirect interference (read coups) have only further strengthened these political dynasties, who take refuge behind innocence, instead of admitting their wrong-doings; concealment, forgery, and under-statement of assets.

As an editorial in Dawn recently pointed out, the SC decision has forced the PML N to devise a new strategy of ‘Rule of Sharifs’. Saad Rafiq, an active leader of the PML N, boasted that removal of one Sharif would lead to rule of another Sharif, and so on. In the same press conference, Rafique, ironically, was also adamant that his party was against ‘dynastic’ politics. Yes, it is any political party’s right to choose the leader of the house, yet Nawaz Sharif’s preferences for future rulers of both Pakistan and Punjab are doing little in promoting a culture of democracy in the country.

As the dawn editorial rightly pointed out, a party that has usurped the name of Jinnah’s political party is not only a ‘nepotistic disgrace’, but fielding a former-PM’s brother as a replacement is also politically problematic. And with a possible of Shahbaz in his son Hamza as the next CM of Punjab, PML N is laying solid grounds for intergenerational transfer of power. If that is the case, there is very little hope for a proper ‘western democracy representative of all’ model that everyone loves to talk about and use as a barometer for civilian rule in Pakistan.


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