The Panama verdict

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Dr Huma Baqai
The predictions of Pakistan being in a state of perilous uncertainty seem to be over-stretched. The transition after Nawaz Sharif exit is streamlined and smooth. For now, the continuity of the Sharif grip is assured. Nawaz may not be the king; he is still the kingmaker. Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, a lackey of Nawaz, becomes an interim prime minister and in 45 days Nawaz’s brother Shahbaz Sharif will take the wheel. The PML(N) has the number game in its favour, anyway, the fragmented opposition has made life easy for them. The stock exchange market responded to this with appreciable gains on the first day post Supreme Court’s decision, where index comfortably broke two important levels of 46000 and 47000 points. Analysts are of the opinion that the main reason behind this is that uncertainty has actually ended.
Many may criticize the decision of the Supreme Court, which has disqualified an elected prime minister, and people cannot stop talking about how in the nation’s 70-year history not one prime minister has completed his term. They have been thrown out by military coups or court judges. However, the latest ouster has actually lifted the spirit of the nation. No matter how cosmetic it may seem now. The court action has actually given hope to millions. The popular narratives in Pakistan are, one, “you cannot touch the rich and powerful” and two, it’s difficult to bring down a prime minister that belongs to Punjab. Both narratives are very damaging for the nation, they stand buried through this judgement. The message is that there is some accountability in a sea of corruption and arbitration, something Washington post also endorsed. Mr Sharif and his family is accused of perjury, forgery, misleading the courts and hiding assets. All of this cannot be ignored, because it was done by an elected prime minister and his adult children.
The decision should actually bring hope for some accountability and rule of law, in a state where it is impossible to even touch the rich, powerful and the connected, let alone bring them to the book. Although Nawaz Sharif is extremely defiant, new red lines have been drawn. Most importantly a message has been sent to the bureaucracy, which will serve to be extremely important in years to come. Hijazi’s arrest and NAB’s exposure of inefficiency or deliberate neglect of cases against the political rich and it being highlighted by the media, is a writing on the wall for the bureaucracy. The message is straight, they should be loyal to the state and not sitting governments. Loyalty to sitting powerful governments had become a norm, where state institutions of accountability were manipulated and remained sub-servant.
Many may say that JIT worked because of assurances from somewhere but the fact remains that it did provide courts with sufficient material, for the cases to be referred to the NAB. This itself is a new first. A lot of times, this was seen as just giving time to the powerful and the influential to get away. The fact that NAB proceedings are both time bound and Supreme Court supervised, is a new construct. Many would once again criticize it as not following the strict norms of autonomy of institution, but then there are times, when you address the existing lacunas in the system by taking such measures. Had the court not done this, manipulation and delaying tactics would immediately kick in. Don’t forget PML(N) had celebrated the formation of the JIT and Imran Khan and others had lost hope of accountability, seeing JIT, at that time, in the light of how things work in this unfortunate country.
And lastly, a lot of talks about development and CPEC. China has given assurance that whatever is happening in Pakistan is its internal matters and will not impact Pak-China Relations. Moreover, the culture of accountability, rule of law and transparency will only help Pakistan, achieve growth and development that is geared towards the betterment of the masses.
And last, but not least, Sharif’s desire to improve relations with India has failed miserably because the Indians befriended Nawaz Sharif, not Pakistan. Opposition has time and again raised serious questions on his conduct of relations with India. The LOC has never been more volatile, as it is in recent years, under Nawaz. Tangible evidence of India instigating trouble in Pakistan via Afghanistan has surfaced. Indian spy has been caught in Pakistan. CPEC is vehemently opposed by India, there is a complete breakdown of dialogue, the water issue has become more contentious, cricket diplomacy between the two countries has died. India has stopped issuing Visas to Pakistanis, claiming it as a diplomatic strike, has also made false claims about surgical strikes. Thus my humble submission here is that Nawaz Sharif may have personal relations with India, his charm has not worked for Pakistan.
My footnote is that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif faced very tough time to his prime minister ship during the dharna period, but the political parties were on his side, this time he is politically isolated. This is largely his own doing and Nawaz Sharif Saheb what goes round, comes around. During the course of his political career he was instrumental in removing elected prime minister, not once, not twice, but thrice…. Now it’s payback time.
The ouster will be a defining moment in Pakistan’s history. It should set the ball rolling for the trial and conviction of politicians and bureaucrats. It is interesting how some are once again willing to let go the merciless loot and plunder of this country, in the garb of stringent legalities and technical intricacies. All know, millions have been looted, and stashed away, Swiss banks have numerous accounts of people who have looted this country, they are all rich, respectable, and the untouchables of Pakistan. This must change, it has to change, if Pakistan is to survive.
— The writer is Associate Professor, Dept of Social Sciences & Liberal Arts at IBA Karachi.
Email:hbaqai@iba.edu.pk