Broadsheet scandal, an unlikely hit show

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Muhammad Usman

PANAMA Leaks were a bolt from blue for Sharif family. Its thunder rattled them completely and eventually sent them packing when Nawaz Sharif as PM was adjudged by the Supreme Court, disqualified from holding a public office for life, being dishonest. Undoubtedly, Imran Khan was the moving force to bring it thus far. It was a hit show and its dividend was most delectable and rewarding for him. He gained ascendancy morally and politically quite handsomely which helped him to win general election 2018 and form governments at the Centre and two provinces including most populous province ‘Punjab’. With Broadsheet disclosures, probably he has seen another God sent opportunity to reap windfalls as of Panama Leaks. His close associates/spokespersons are calling it a ‘Panama Leaks Two’. In exuberance, his Interior Minister, Sheikh Rashid has gone even one step ahead by describing it a ‘Panama leaks plus’.

A single-member Commission, headed by Justice Azmat Saeed Sheikh (retired) has been constituted by the government to inquire into the saga of Broadsheet with more powers and enhanced purview. According to its TORs, in addition to powers conferred upon the Commission, it shall also be empowered to constitute a special team of officials and experts in any particular field for the purpose of assisting the Commission in conducting the probe.
Everyone is entitled to his opinion/interpretation but given conditions, such a thought is quite far off the mark and is unlikely to yield for him politically as Panama Leaks did. The environment in the country has undergone a qualitative change. Major change is that now Imran Khan is not on people’s rostrum at D-Chowk but in the chair of the PM nearby. Instead of rhetorically making heady promises, now he has to deliver and his copybook as PM is not fascinating rather disappointing to his even ardent fans, admirers, sympathizers and supporters. Now he cannot only blame the bulls. Instead, he has to act as a matador against bulls of all kind including of own making.

As already highlighted above, corruption followed by the conviction was a bombshell for Nawaz Sharif and his family politically yet, his media crooks managed to generate a myth about him “agar khatha hay, tu laghatha bhi hay” effectively particularly, in his support base. Now it is fast becoming a blocking position to prevent its further erosion regardless of his loot and plunder rather, amazingly, it is re-energizing its popularity to noticeable extent. This myth had holes and could have easily been debunked if countered thoughtfully however, Imran Khan and his party rely upon stereotype mantra of corruption and corruption only inadvertently or otherwise as a panacea to guard against own inadequacies and purge all ills, prevalent in society. Apart from this, people are increasingly growing weary of such a mantra especially when they see no substantive action against guilty of rampant corruption. They want them to disgorge ill-gotten money and be behind the bars. The score of the government is almost a naught on this account. Ongoing accountability drive is losing relevance for common people. This sounds to them business as usual or propaganda gimmicks with no tangible benefit for their moral and material benefit. This is the replay of what has always been on the round before.

Another critical aspect is dismal performance of government in nearly all spheres related to their everyday lives. Notable areas are livelihood, price control, corruption, civil administration and maintenance of road network/localities. The government brags around injecting new vitality in the dwindling economy but there is no sign of trickledown effect which matters the most to impoverished people as well as to average households. They have waited for two and half years but now seem to lose patience. Improvement in mega economy does not humour them because it has a history of bagging all economic benefits alone rather than sharing them with common flock. Owing to the accumulative effect of all these, a sense of seething discontentment has started creeping in about the change, promised by Imran Khan. It may be a just matter of time when hope may turn into despondency and despair. This could inflict a mortal blow to the change.

Amid such an environment, inquiry about Broadsheet may not be able to fetch anything meaningful rather, manifests the potential to prove counterproductive. Unfortunately, this may nourish incubating negative sentiments in minds of people about ongoing accountability drive thus, strengthening the cause of guilty indirectly. This is inverse of what Imran Khan gained out of Panama Leaks. Most importantly, this may lull government into complacency not to take reappraisal of its poor performance so far. To live up to expectations of people as a leader of change, Imran Khan needs to take urgent stock of the situation for its remedy. He is not a PM of ordinary times. He has come in the most difficult time.

Whatever, he talks, it has conceptual merit because he has no crisis of intent but his work is of pretty routine nature. It does not exude high acumen, required from the PM of a difficult country like Pakistan. This is the shortfall which he could only compensate with a good team and he has failed to gather good hands until now. Its absence could lead him astray. Accountability is his vision to pull the country out of the deep sinkhole of all types but its accomplishment needs a competent and efficient accountability apparatus which is not there. Fresh initiatives of accountability may pause before ongoing accountability cases arrive at a satisfying end to ward off the possibility of negativity about it. Besides, he needs to hurry up all round because time is slipping dangerously.
— The writer, a retired Lt Col, is a senior columnist based in Islamabad.