Panama Leaks Gathering Storm
By Asif Haroon Raja
11.5 million files leaked by a whistle blower from an offshore company in Panama and published by a German newspaper has created ripples in the world. These are just the first batch released and many more are likely to be made public. Leaks are not a new phenomenon when seen in context with WikiLeaks and Snowden’s revelations. Nothing came out of the two earthshaking exposures and those have been consigned to the dustbin of history, while the two whistle blowers Assange and Snowden are in hiding. Panama leaks have however exposed the racket of the rich and resulted in resignations of some top figures in Iceland, Ukraine and Spain and has put many others in trouble.
Offshore companies are in existence since long and it is a well-known fact that the world’s rich and famous stash their wealth in safe havens to either whiten their black money, or hide their wealth, or evade/ avoid tax. About $105 trillion stashed in offshore companies around the world are considered legal. Possibility of conspiracy cannot be altogether ruled out since among the culprits, not a single American has been named, whereas the elite of USA are the biggest tax thieves. Main targets appear to be resurgent Russia, rising China and nuclear Pakistan.
Another view is that the US is under massive debt of $19 trillion and China is the biggest donor of debt to USA, while Eurozone debt has risen to $16 trillion. The US is extremely worried over the fast paced development of CPEC which when commissioned will free China of the Malacca dilemma and China may not lend more loan to the US. The US intends to loot the looters by passing laws and then first freezing and then seizing over $100 trillion stashed in offshore companies and making it their property and thus resolving their financial crisis for times to come. Europe will also partake its share of the loot.
Among the 260 Pakistani politicians and businessmen holding accounts in offshore companies, two sons and daughter of PM Nawaz Sharif (NS) have also been named. These news have come as a God sent opportunity for the NS haters and their aggressive posturing has given rise to the political temperature in Pakistan. Imran Khan (IK) is leading the assault brigade wanting his head. IK want him to resign before the inquest and rejected the judicial commission under retired judges suggested by the PM since he wants that who so ever holds the inquiry should give verdict of his choice.
He and other opposition parties demanded formation of high powered commission under Chief Justice (CJ) of Supreme Court to head the probe and also forensic audit. IK threatened that in case his demand is not met he will lead the long march and stage a sit-in at Jati Umra in Raiwind, which will continue till NS’s exit. He showed his strength on April 24 while celebrating his party’s 20th anniversary at F-9 Park Islamabad and availed the occasion to badger NS. Media gladly bought the bellicose stance taken by IK since it is ripe with sensationalism, and has gone bonkers over the issue of Panama Leaks.
While NS has asserted that no illegality has been committed by him or any of his family member, IK and his like-minded politicians are not prepared to buy the idea that NS is not directly involved in offshore company scandal, and that his son Hussain Nawaz purchased properties (two flats) in London legally. However, it is a fact that Nawaz’s two sons Hussain and Hasan are residing in London since 1992. Hussain has admitted owning offshore company and two flats in London. He stated that since he took residence in London in 1992, he is not obligated to file tax return or declare assets in Pakistan.
It is also true that Sharif family went through rigorous investigations thrice in the past but no case of corruption was proved against them. It also cannot be denied that Sharif family prospered because of the hard work of their father Mian Muhamad Sharif and that their business recovered despite deliberate attempts made by ZA Bhutto, Benazir and Musharraf to bludgeon Ittefaq Foundry.
What is required to be probed is whether the amount deposited by Hussain Nawaz in Mossac Fonseca Company was legally earned, or stolen from Pakistan national kitty, and whether it was transferred legally, and whether it was his earning from steel factories in Saudi Arabia, and whether he purchased London property lawfully or from unlawful sources; and whether Marium Nawaz is a trustee in the Mossac Fonseca offshore company or owner/shareholder; and whether NS had any connection.
Taking into account IK’s old habit of distrusting everyone and casting aspersions, the retired judges refused to head the investigation. Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani declined to head a parliamentary committee as suggested by opposition leader Khurshid Shah to conduct the probe. He remarked that protests being staged could have interest of non-political forces who have their own axe to grind.
In the backdrop of heat generated by the politicians and media over Panama Papers and the demand for ruthless accountability, Gen Raheel Sharif’s statement that terrorism cannot be rooted out unless corruption is eliminated through across the board accountability upped the ante. NS haters took it for granted that the jibe was meant for none else but NS. The media and opponents of NS went crazy once the news of sacking of six senior Army officers on corruption charges were broken and gave them a chance to fire their salvos on NS with full intensity and shame him.
Whirling under pressure, NS addressed the nation for the second time in a month and agreed to form an inquiry commission under CJ as demanded by the opposition. The terms of reference (TORs) however sought probe of all the 260 persons mentioned in Panama Papers as well as other account holders in all offshore companies/banks/firms, owners of properties abroad, loan defaulters and those who had got their loans written off. The commission has been given wide powers to investigate and assured of full support of the government. Logically this step should have defused the hysteria but it didn’t. IK and other political parties are now objecting to the TORs and the scope of the investigation that has been widened. They want the inquiry to be confined to NS and his family only since in their view the wide ranged TORs are mala fide in intentions and meant to buy time. The Pakistan Tehreek Insaf (PTI) and Jamaat-e-Islami have decided to launch a campaign against corruption, while major political parties in opposition will be getting together on May 2 to decide the future course of action. The purpose of opposition is to build pressure and force NS to quit.
Involvement of CJ and serving judges will be at the cost of their judicial work which is already painfully slow due to heavy workload. More so, what is the guarantee that the verdict given by CJ would be accepted? It’s been sounded by the apex court that investigation falls in the domain of executive and not of judiciary and that the Judiciary adjucate and doesn’t investigate. It is to be seen how CJ responds when he returns from abroad on May 2. He will decide what is doable and what is not.
After the unproductive six months sit-in in 2014, which caused huge economic loss to Pakistan and immense inconvenience to the residents of twin cities, preparations are underway for another sit-in on account of Panama leaks. IK is kicking up dust to slur the image of NS as much as possible, create another political crisis and force Gen Raheel to step in as a referee, the way former chief Gen Waheed Kakar had acted in 1993, and facilitate mid-term elections. IK’s fans on social media as well as electronic and print media are frenetically heating up the temperature and subjecting NS and his family to media trial. In their exuberance they have lost sight of norms of decency and ethics. Oddly, they have no strategy to execute their wish but are merely firing slings of hate aimlessly and blindly. If they are doing so to fight the menace of corruption and to fortify the process of accountability, I am afraid that is not the case since their guns are aimed at NS and his family only and none else. They are least bothered about 257 people whose names have been mentioned in Panama Papers but want immediate accountability of NS, whose name has not been mentioned, and his three children.
IK also carries a baggage and he is still an untried horse. In case IK is spotless as claimed, what about the turncoats in his party from other parties with dubious background who call all the shots? One of their leading lights Aleem Khan has an offshore company and he has 9 flats in UK while he has declared only 4 flats in his tax returns the value of which is shown as Rupees 29 lacs only. Jahangir Tareen and Faisal Wadia of PTI own dozens of flats in UK. Tareen and Aleem meet the expenses of PTI public meetings and sit-ins. If Jati Umra is an empire, what about Bani Gala? If patients have benefited from Shaukat Khanum hospital, large numbers have benefited from the mills and factories owned by Sharif brothers.
Hypothetically, even if their wish come true, what next? If they think that IK will be crowned is nothing more than wishful thinking since he has no standing in Sindh and Baluchistan, his political power in KP has waned and he hasn’t dented PML-N strength in Punjab. He does not have the political strength to win and that too with a heavy mandate, or the political acumen to deal with complex socio-politico-economic and security matters, or the astuteness to deal with anti-Pakistan foreign agenda. His own party is rived in infighting, PTI’s performance in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is far from satisfactory and ministers are involved in corruption.
PML-N in league with JUI-F could have easily dethroned PTI in KP if it wanted to but didn’t. PML-N bailed out PTI’s legislators who had resigned during dharna by restoring their membership. PML-N strength has further increased in Punjab as was evident in by-elections and local bodies’ elections and has also gained space in other provinces. Popularity graph of the Sharif brothers has not declined.
In case by stroke of luck, IK manages to topple the present regime and the country heads for mid-term elections, given the political polarization and presence of foreign network inside Pakistan, will it be peaceful? Will the Army be able to spare troops for national and provincial elections? Elections will be held without electoral reforms and the losers will again level the charge of rigging. There will be chaos and all development works and ongoing operations in northwest, Baluchistan, Karachi and Punjab will come to a standstill. It will certainly impact CPEC since China is already a bit upset because of the deleterious role of certain political forces in Pakistan finding faults in the project. Iran and India will step up their efforts to convince China to change the direction of economic corridor to Chahbahar.
For arguments sake, even if PTI wins with a narrow margin and IK sits in the coveted chair of PM, he will find himself besieged by his opponents and it will be a miracle if he survives for a year. With all around pulls and pushes one wonders how he will be able to cure all the chronic diseases of Pakistan and make it a malaise-free Pakistan and an Asian tiger. He can do so if he has a magic wand but not otherwise. Why does he overlook that Pakistan is the most difficult country of the world to govern? One of the key reasons why Pakistan lurches from one crisis to another is the Indian factor which does not want Pakistan to become stable and prosperous. India is strategic partner of the sole super power and darling of the west and Israel. The three conniving partners are anti-CPEC and against Pakistan’s nuclear program.
IK’s authoritarian behavior will impel all the political and religious forces to gang up and go for a big sit-in and force him to abdicate. He will be left with no option but to become a dictator and use force ruthlessly. His opponents will demand national government (collection of thieves from all parties) or military takeover. All this will result in instability and mayhem. None else but enemies of Pakistan will benefit from the chaos. It is one of the favored strategy of the CIA to foment chaos in the target country to affect a regime change.
Let us cast away our prejudices for a moment and see things with an open mind and compare the state of affairs that had existed during the previous regime and that of the present one. I reckon, even the blind and deaf will admit that there is a world of difference in all the fields. Had things gone from bad to worse, one was morally justified to raise hue and cry. If we could put up with the black deeds of PPP-MQM-ANP coalition for 5 years when Pakistan was fast sinking, why can’t we put up with PML-N regime for another 2 years that has rescued the ship from collapsing and shown better results? Why can’t IK wait for his turn in May 2018 and after all, what is the hurry and why so? Why the entire focus on Sharif family and not on the whole lot of 260 persons named in leaks as well as other notorious corrupt big shots? Will the cancer of corruption be cured by removing Nawaz? Why so much of uproar on investigation commission and distrust in all institutions? God forbid, if we again venture to seek foreign investigators, we must not fail to recall the zero outcome of UN team and Scotland Yard investigating Benazir murder case and foot dragging over Dr. Imran Farooq murder and money laundering cases pending since 2010.
Nervousness of India and the US and their great hurry to torpedo the progress of Pakistan is comprehensible because of the fast track development of CPEC and other mega development works, control over terrorism and accomplishment of Full Spectrum Deterrence. Having tried out all possible covert and overt methods to derail Pakistan, or to roll back CPEC and tactical nuclear capability, could the agitation planned by PTI and others including Tahirul Qadri (who has again got active) be another tool employed to dislocate Pakistan’s accomplishments?
We must not turn a blind eye to the recently concluded Indo-US defence agreements on logistics, maritime security, military communication networking and satellite communication/information sharing to further cement their strategic partnership. These agreements will allow both militaries to utilise the facilities of each other’s military bases, ensure deeper collaboration between the two navies in Indian and Pacific Oceans, allow the commanders of two armed forces to talk on hotline, and to use satellites for controlling ballistic missiles. Indian armed forces have been made part of the US plan to strategically encircle China but this will also enable India to encircle Pakistan by virtue of its foothold in Afghanistan and Iran and deepening ties with Gulf States. This is an alarming development when seen in context with US-Iran burgeoning relationship and the US coldness with Saudi Arabia. Above all, the existence of foreign agencies network stretching from one end of the country to another.
Possible reason behind IK’s impetuosity could be that he knows that given the pace of progress made by PML-N, his chance of winning in 2018 elections will become dim. His recklessness to de-seat PM by hook or crook is puzzling. Have we forgotten ZA Bhutto’s mindless sabre rattling against his mentor Field Marshal Ayub Khan which forced Ayub to resign and his departure ended Pakistan’s golden period? And later Bhutto-Mujibur Rahman’s pigheadedness which led to breakup of Pakistan? Bhutto was rated as the most charismatic and popular leader after Quaid-e-Azam, but what did he give to Pakistan? How can we forget the unstable democratic era from 1988 to 1999 which saw four changeovers and then takeover by the military? We also saw the disgraceful exit of Gen Musharraf when all and sundry yelled in unison that worst democracy is better than military dictatorship and that the military has impeded the growth of democracy. Everyone praised Zardari. So why the military is being sought and what is the guarantee that Gen Raheel will be treated with love and affection? Chronic Army bashers who stick to their falsehood that the armed forces eat up 80% of national budget and that Army is a white elephant which must be cut to size are keeping mum momentarily. In reality the Army’s budget is not more than 17%. They will get activated and so will the media and political forces in case the Army seize power.
What is urgently required is an unbiased and honest probe by the Commission under Supreme Court CJ as was vigorously demanded by the opposition to find answers to the allegations made in Panama leaks and if there is veracity in the charges, it should pin the blame and recommend punishment. Hue and cry and politics of agitation at a time when the country is passing through critical times will be counterproductive. If nothing is found in the probe and it is ascertained that a wicked agenda was behind the leaks, those subscribing to foreign inspired agenda should be taken to task. Restricting the scope of investigation to Panama Papers and that too to NS and his family will be similar to Hamoodur Rahman Commission whose mandate was limited to the role of military in East Pakistan only.
There is definitely a need to launch a vigorous campaign against corruption which is eating into the vitals of the country and is a major cause of immorality, crime and terrorism. Corruption cannot be possibly rooted out in few months or one year. Security forces are fighting the cancer of terrorism since 2003 and have yet not got rid of it. The suggested Commission should confine its investigation to the ones named in Panama Leaks as well as those possessing properties abroad and holding accounts in various offshore companies/banks/firms so as to recover $ 200 billion stashed by Pakistanis abroad. At the same time, another national action plan should be devised to fight corruption on war footing so as to rid the country of the cancer of corruption. For this, the system of accountability needs to be strengthened. Duly restructured NAB, FIA and anti-corruption department should carry out across the board accountability of all and sundry to recover every penny of looted money of the nation.
The writer is a retired Brig, war veteran, defence analyst, columnist, author of five books, director Measac Research Centre, Director Board of Governors Thinkers Forum Pakistan. He delivers talks and takes part in TV talk shows. firstname.lastname@example.org