Calm before the Panama storm
Published on April 20, 2017

Ever since the return of democracy in 2008, the two successive civilian governments have lived from moment-to-moment under a plethora of charges of corruption

Whether the Supreme Court’s judgment in the Panama Papers case will be remembered for centuries favourably or adversely will depend on the verdict itself. Yet the ongoing suspense is almost too much to take with different conspiracy theories taking root at rapid speed.

If the prime minister has a stone in his kidney, nobody wants to believe it. They think it is simply part of a ruse that will allow him the face-saving opportunity of going abroad – from where he can safely submit his resignation in case the Court rules against him.

Ever since the return of democracy in 2008, the two successive civilian governments have lived from moment-to-moment under a plethora of charges of corruption. Now the perception is that Nawaz and family would not survive Panamagate. Their position is worse confounded by the pressure they face from the establishment to disclose the culprits involved in the controversial national security leak published a local leading newspaper.

It goes to the credit of former President Asif Zardari that he supported Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the flagging democracy during the period of dharnas with the umpire’s finger waiting to go up –irrespective of the fact that the prime minister and his ministers did everything to undermine the Parliament and to irk the legislators.

Previously, the PPP, in its five years, concentrated on pursuing its policy of national reconciliation, consolidation of democracy by sustaining smooth functioning of the Parliament and introduction of the 18th Amendment to strengthen the federating units. It did not try to destabilise the provincial governments as is happening these days. Its singular achievement was to complete its five-year tenure in an atmosphere made overly vicious by the then chief justice of the Supreme Court, backed by the PML-N and fuelled by a media that saw its end every next day. It must also be given credit for CPEC. President Zardari did not visit China nine times for nothing. Whatever he did is now blossoming in the shape of CPEC and increasing economic activity in the country.

On the other hand, PML-N government has had a different agenda. It had one goal and that was to run Punjab as if it was entire Pakistan. Its federal government is known for its devil-may-care attitude towards other provinces, especially Sindh. One has often seen all the three smaller provinces challenging the federal government for what they call its injustices.

It is regretfully noted that in dealing especially with Sindh, perception is growing that there is a deliberate attempt to create conditions that could disenchant the masses from the PPP. It has brought the government to such a point that Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah had to serve an ultimatum that if Sindh’s demands are not met, it will cut off supply of gas from Sindh to Punjab.

Karachi, being the hen that lays the golden egg, seems to have been singled out for law and order issues to divert attention from Punjab that is internationally recognised as the epicentre of terrorism, and where jihadi camps are thriving in JuD’s Muridke headquarters and in south.

No doubt Karachi has endemic problems. Its continuous law and order situation is mainly due to the fact it has never been allowed to develop an indigenous policing service. Since 1989, its exchequer has been overly burdened by Rangers assigned to its law and order duties.

A high powered commission needs to be constituted to find out the reasons why, except for brief optic spurts, the city’s law and order situation remains on tenterhooks despite a heavy presence of Rangers for over quarter of a century. The use of Rangers in an oppressive manner seems to be sinisterly motivated to create scare among the people. The frequency with which they move in the city makes them look like members of SS squad in Hitler’s Germany, in action against dissenters. Their operations in Lyari seem similar to efforts to conquer Stalingrad.

The MQM is fractured. PPP remains the party that continues to withstand the onslaught of the establishment. It has an incredible record of not surrendering to the powers-that-be who have been desperately trying since decades to displace it from Sindh.

The victimisation of Dr Asim Hussain and his arrest on multiple charges was not normal. The arrest was not conducted by the police, FIA or NAB, but by Rangers. The force leaked fabricated video tapes of Dr Asim’s confession. It is clear that Dr Asim was targeted because of his association with PPP. Now much more of the same is unfolding. Two persons close to former president Asif Zardari are “missing”. It is not just a matter of two or four people going missing in a country where the list of missing persons is ever increasing. It is a larger issue of tightening the dragnet against PPP that has survived conspiracies of some ambitious and Bonapartist generals and their premier intelligence agency, as recorded in the confessions of late Gen (r) Hameed Gul and former ISI chief General Asad Durrani. Indictment of the culprits politically opposed to PPP who took money from ISI is also a matter of record collecting dust in the Supreme Court’s mortuary.

It seems that something sinister is brewing. It relates to the leaks attributed to Uzair Baloch as part of his long confession. He faces court martial for espionage allegedly for Iran, and being a collaborator to Indian spy Kulbushan Jhadav.

Lyari is considered as the citadel of PPP’s power in Karachi. Its people have always been in the forefront of party’s relentless struggle for democracy and unflinching loyalty for the Bhuttos. Very few people in Lyari oppose the party. Its roots are so deep that everyone believes that it is his right to have access to the top PPP leadership.

What’s strange about Uzair Baloch is that it has been months since he was brought back from Dubai and he was drowned in a sea of allegations of murders, running drug mafia and every other crime under the sun, and yet in all these months nothing has been proved against him. Had he been tried for hundreds of murders and other criminal activities in a military court, by now he would have been gone for good. It seems that he has been kept alive to be used against the main challengers of the establishment.

The big and more relevant question is how could a criminal have access to sensitive military and classified information, how come he had ingress to important personnel in the military who could compromise classified information with such a dangerous person. Obviously there are many more questions and issues that need to be probed.

Indeed, in the whole murky scenario there is something deeply sinister that is more than what meets the eye. One hopes Panama verdict and the case of AAZ’s missing persons in Sindh is not a precursor to some eventuality of lethal political consequences not good for democracy, and entailing extra constitutional intervention.

-          The author is Pakistan’s former High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, has served as adviser to former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and is a veteran journalist. Source: www.dailytimes.com.pk

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