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Dreams and rude reality

May 14, 2016


The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

WHEN the Sharifs were first sent queries on the Panama Papers towards the turn of the year by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), they demonstrably received very poor counsel.

There are suggestions that every effort was made to have Ms Maryam Nawaz’s name removed from the list. Those trying to get this done had little idea how organisations such as the ICIJ work.

Nonetheless, the thinking behind these efforts reflected the division of labour (for want of a better expression) in the first family where the prime minister’s sons have taken over and run his part of the business empire mostly from abroad as they have considerable interests overseas.

The prime minister, it is understood, sees no role for his sons in Pakistani politics apart from being a source of funds for the family, while his daughter Maryam is being trained to be his political heir. She already wields considerable influence in the Prime Minister’s House directing many policy areas including the handling of media including social media.

An insider said this was the reason Mr Nawaz Sharif was said to be keen that his daughter’s name remain untainted by the Panama Papers content because, as a politician, he knows well how such issues come back to haunt you even after years.

But the efforts to have this done met the same fate as the US administration’s efforts to stop WikiLeaks though with a difference as Washington tried what it did in the name of national security. This is when literally out of the blue two TV interviews of Mr Hussain Nawaz were arranged.

Pakistan needs to consider embarking on a path similar to South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The first was given to Mr Hamid Mir of Geo TV and was aired in mid-January. It raised an eyebrow or two, for the scion of the Sharif family is hardly known as a media-savvy millionaire who frequents TV studios. But the second given about eight weeks later to Mr Javed Chaudhry of Express TV confirmed at least to the questioning mind that there was something fishy.

These interviews were another example of poor advice as Hussain Nawaz placed ‘facts’ in the public domain which he didn’t need to about his and his brother Hassan Nawaz’s London property portfolio held via offshore companies. This information was, of course, volunteered in response to questions by the esteemed inquisitors.

The purpose of these interviews may have been to prepare the public for the Panama Papers and create a plausible explanation for the Sharif’s offshore-controlled property interests in London. In the end, these had the opposite effect as the whole controversy now is about when the Park Lane properties were acquired.

Mr Hussain Nawaz had claimed in the interviews that these luxury flats were bought from the funds he got from his share of proceeds in the sale of a steel plant in Saudi Arabia in 2005/06 that was set up during the Sharifs’ years in exile following the 1999 coup.

However, the Sharifs’ detractors are insisting that these properties were purchased in the mid-1990s and have already figured in a legal case with a bank from which a loan was secured against these properties. These contradictions are not helping the Sharifs’ cause one bit.

Sources familiar with the ruling family’s thinking paint another very interesting picture. According to this view, the Sharifs feel whatever happened through the 1980s and 1990s when their business empire grew, phenomenally buoyed first by patronage from the Zia regime and then their own presence in government, should now be a closed chapter.

“They feel they atoned for all their sins by being thrown out in a coup and the persecution that followed, and should now be allowed to govern with a clean slate. After all, no money is being made now, their behaviour is democratic and they are committed to the country’s development,” said a source.

This view doesn’t appear too dissimilar to the thinking of the PPP’s top leadership in their last tenure even when the so-called National Reconciliation Ordinance had been thrown out by the Supreme Court. The top leadership continued to build their commercial empire as they thought their ‘sacrifices’, including long years, spent in jails gave them the right.

In a country where leading politicians are tainted by corruption scandals, where some generals are occasionally charged and punished for corruption but none ever questioned about the ruin experienced by the nation on account of their experimentation with jihadis as a means of bolstering national security, and where integrity of most media is a function of advertising revenues from land grabbers and crooked ‘developers’, despondency becomes the norm.

If the sacrifices of the soldiers, paramilitary and police forces, and the civilian citizens in the fight against terrorism are to count for something perhaps Pakistan needs to consider embarking on a path similar to South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

It was evident that the military may be getting restive when one traced the sources of the leaked news of the prime minister’s meeting with the army chief. These unnamed though identifiable sources claimed that the latter counselled the former Sharif to ‘resolve’ the stalemate arising from the Panama Papers.

Worse still could be widespread public anger; and the ultimate nightmare if this anger shows itself in the swelling ranks of extremist organisations which ostensibly oppose the status quo in the name of injustice and religious tenets.

Can’t all major players who have let this nation down individually or collectively come clean about their past, seek forgiveness and pledge never to go down that path again so that hopes about the future can be rekindled?

But such a wish always reminds me of a cynical friend who used to respond to such thoughts with: “Then you woke up.”

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2016