Panama Papers and the reign of confusion.
The second installment of the Panama Papers arrived on May 9 and apparently incriminates more Pakistanis, including opposition politicians who had been demanding accountability of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family, accused of money laundering and tax evasion. The debates on cable news channels, when not in bad taste, have grown meaningless because of the legal uncertainties involved. If the laws allowing movement of capital without disclosure are still in place, how can you punish anyone? Down among the masses, there is an over-secretion of bile and resultant pessimism.
Somehow the entire jigsaw of politics seems to be missing one piece: where does the Pakistan Army stand in all this? Reference to corruption by the Army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, has been read as a signal for “political transition.” The tealeaves of an internal purge in the Army have been read as a message to the incumbent government to mend its ways—and a signal to the opposition to close ranks and storm Fortress Islamabad. The military’s Inter-Services Public Relations wing is carefully tightlipped, but retired officers who appear on TV talk shows as “experts” at times say things pointing to tension between the two Sharifs.
Blindsided by their current predicament, the mutually abrasive Pakistan Peoples Party-Muttahida Qaumi Movement combine in Sindh can’t seem to fathom what may happen to them after they have facilitated the rise to power of Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. Both have been threatened politically by him in Karachi; and the PPP has actually been replaced in the Punjab by the PTI.
Predictably, the crisis precipitated by the Panama Papers will not be allowed to simmer down. Stonewalling by Prime Minister Sharif will suit Khan who will back off only when the parliamentary opposition gets tired and wants out. Because the international community is still to decide what internationally binding law to bring to ban the creation of tax havens, confusion and anger will reign. Neither the world outside nor the legislation at home is going to round up the wrongdoers retrospectively. If the new deterrent law is yet to be framed, how can the 259 Pakistanis named so far in the Panama Papers be punished? One thing is more certain, however: Pakistan will remain unstable, threatening the economy and the wellbeing of its people.