Opposition parties on the Panama Papers probe


As the full bench of the Election Commission of Pakistan, headed by the Chief Election Commissioner prepared for hearing identical petitions seeking the disqualification of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday, the opposition parties including Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) have decided to up the ante. The JI chief Siraj-ul-Haq said on Tuesday that his party would file a petition in the Supreme Court on August 22 to seek a court order for an investigation into the Panama leaks, and waiver of loans. Speaking at a press conference, Haq said that everyone involved in the Panama leaks including the prime minister should be held accountable. Furthermore, he said that the loan waivers granted under the current government should also be investigated, and those found guilty should be punished. The PTI chairman Imran Khan also made public his party’s intention of moving to the Supreme Court against the prime minister, claiming that there was enough evidence to support the petition.
Although it is a positive development that the opposition parties have manifested their resolve to demand accountability of certain business interests of the prime minister, it is important to have them all on the same page in this regard. In their pursuit of accountability there must not be any personal agenda or gratuitous political point-scoring. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government has not shown any seriousness regarding investigations into the Panama leaks. Government should come out of denial and respond to the allegations from the opponents through legal channels, as the delay in investigations is harming government’s stance on the issue. A consensus on the ToR has not been reached yet, and such inaction on the part of government fuels the allegations of financial wrongdoings.
Pakistan has witnessed politics of agitation since the current government came to power in 2013. While the opposition succeeded in its particular demands, Pakistan has suffered a great deal economically; protests in Islamabad resulted in losses worth billions of rupees. Furthermore, it diverted the attention of government from other chronic problems that beset the country. The result is that there has not been much progress made in the power shortfall, and lapses have been witnessed in maintaining the law and order situation. Therefore, the opposition parties should also realise the consequences of their protests on the economy of the country.
Furthermore, inquiry should be held against all those people whose names have been mentioned in the Panama leaks, notwithstanding any political affiliations, if the opposition parties are serious about improvement in mechanism of accountability in Pakistan.
In order for the probe to be transparent and sustainable, the due process should be followed without turning it into a senationlist drama made for media, vote-seeking or a political witch-hunt. A collective mechanism to demand accountability works as a strengthening tool for democracy. If the purpose of the present onslaught is merely political gains, the biggest loser would be the institution of democracy in Pakistan, which requires years of solid work to have it transform into a proper system of governance. Political parties uniting for accountability is a good idea provided they have a clear goal to ensure supremacy of system and transparent accountability without any wiles and games for promotion of vested interests and electoral hegemony.