News & Views
Opposition is poised to pressurise the government to frame Terms of Reference for the Judicial Commission through public rallies and demonstrations. The ruling party PML-N has also decided to start public contact campaign, and announced that prime minister would address public meetings throughout Pakistan, to start with Imran Khan’s home ground Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Amazingly, both sides of the divide give no sense at all if they are posturing, as normally the politicos do at the elections time. On Friday, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif addressed the nation and to defuse the pressure and announced that he would write a letter to the Chief Justice of Pakistan regarding formation of inquiry commission to probe the allegations in the Panama Papers leak. The Ministry of Law and Justice immediately issued a notification, which also mentioned the Terms of Reference (ToRs), which have been rejected by the opposition parties.
In addition to examining information related to the involvement of Pakistani citizens, persons of Pakistan origin and legal entities in offshore companies in Panama or in any other country, it would also look into the involvement of former and present holders of public office in getting their bank loans or those of their immediate family members written off using political influence. The opposition leaders have rejected the terms of reference and formation of the commission under Pakistan Commission of Inquiry Act 1956, which they believe has been done for ulterior motives. They believe that instead of confining to the probe to the present and past rulers, the commission has been assigned many tasks such as probing thousands of persons and entities who got their loans written off. The opposition parties demand of the government to include the investigations by international auditors and forensic experts in the ToRs.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is otherwise very calm and well composed, lost his cool and made direct personal attacks on his opponents during the address to the nation. It was an ill-advised speech, which was reflective of the caliber of his advisors. Without taking Imran Khan’s name, he made personal attacks and passed acerbic remarks against him. After Kargil episode, when differences had emerged between civil and military leadership, PML-Ns then information minister and few others had advised Nawaz Sharif to fix up some generals to show them who was the boss. In his address on Friday, he said who will question those who overthrew his government, registered a case of plane hijacking, and passed the 17th amendment. It appears that his advisors are upping the ante and reinventing the politics of 1970s and 1990s, fraught with extreme dangers.
Leader of the Opposition Khursheed Shah, Chairman PTI Imran Khan and other leaders have rejected the Terms of Reference, which they say, should have been decided with the consent of the opposition parties. According to renowned legal and constitutional expert Salman Akram Raja, the process of probing 220 people whose names have been mentioned in Panama Papers may take 50 years. Instead of confining the probe to the present and past rulers, the commission has been assigned many tasks such as probing thousands of persons and entities who got their loans written off using their clout with the rulers. Though Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid and other PML-N leaders say that proposed Judicial Commission has been mandated to appoint international auditors and forensic experts, but it has not been included in the terms of reference issued by the government.
Meanwhile, PML-N has decided to take the matter to the people of Pakistan and chalked out a plan to hold public meetings throughout Pakistan. It has to be mentioned that in 1977 the Pakistan National Alliance had taken out rallies against the polls rigging, and the PPP also started staging rallies, which led to confrontation and loss of life. The PPP had agreed to hold reelection on 35 seats, but due to prolonged talks the law and order situation had become serious and the country was facing anarchy. It was in this backdrop that late Zia-ul-Haq had promulgated Martial Law in the country. There is a perception that statements by the COAS General Raheel Sharif have been instrumental in changing the mind of the government, and it decided to form the commission to be headed by the Chief Justice of Pakistan.
On Tuesday, COAS General Raheel Sharif had said: “Across-the-board accountability is necessary for the solidarity, integrity and prosperity of Pakistan; and war against terror cannot be won unless the menace of corruption is uprooted. Pakistan’s Armed Forces will fully support every meaningful effort in that direction which would ensure a better future for our next generations.” He offered all out cooperation of the armed forces to purge the country of scourge of corruption. Of course, he said there should be across the board accountability, which he started from his own institution. Within forty eight hours of the above statement, six military officers were dismissed from service after a court of inquiry found them at fault. Three star general, a two-star general, three brigadiers and a colonel were sacked for abuse of authority and amassing illegal, and their ranks have been taken back.
Last year, he had also given go ahead to National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for inquiry DHA scam involving brothers of former COAS Ashfaq Pervez Kayani. In August 2015, two retired generals were punished for corruption amounting to Rs 4.3 billion in the National Logistic Cell (NLC), forfeiting their ranks, decorations, medals, honors, awards, seizure of pension, recovery of personal gains, cancellation of service benefits and all other allied facilities. With his actions, General Raheel Sharif has proved that there is no holy cow that cannot be touched or talked about. However, it would be colossal wrong done to it if its weaknesses are not mentioned and removed if it has to become further fighting fit. But that sort of constructive criticism is absent from the whole of the current discourse, which appears to all intents and purposes intended to run the military down in the popular eye, and not to help improve its act.
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.