Knowing that the Panama Papers leak may hit the government hard, the prime minister has fielded two of his most battle-hardened lieutenants in the committee that will decide the fate of the inquiry into Panamagate.
The two Khawajas, Saad Rafiq and Mohammad Asif, are known for browbeating the opposition benches, both inside and outside parliament. For many, the move clearly suggests that the government is in no mood to back down or reconcile with the opposition, and looks determined to take the fight to the opposition.
Both pugnacious Khawajas have proven their mettle to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif time and again, which is why he has made them part of the first line of defence in matters related to his person and his family.
It was Khawaja Asif who, during the Sharif family’s time in exile, faithfully held the fort – both outside and inside parliament – and took on military dictator General Pervez Musharraf. Speeches made by Mr Asif on the floor of the house against the then-military dictator continue to be quoted to this day as some of the harshest against the army.
At the same time, it is hard to imagine PML-N politics in Lahore without Saad Rafiq. The railway minister is one of a select few party leaders who withstood the pressure of the former military dictator and kept the party alive with his belligerent style of street politics, during and after the end of the Sharifs’ time in exile.
JUI-F’s Akram Khan Durrani, who is also a member of the ToR committee, is another character known for passing below-the-belt remarks. His inclusion seems to be a logical progression from a recent public meeting in DI Khan, where both he and his party chief, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, had offered the prime minister their unequivocal support against Panamagate detractors.
“The mere mention of the two Khawajas shows that the government is more interested in picking a fight with the opposition than resolving the ToR issue, remarked a senior journalist who has covered parliamentary proceedings for nearly three decades.
To substantiate his argument, he recalled how the two were not engaged when the government wanted to hold talks with the PTI over the formation of an inquiry commission to probe allegations of rigging in the 2013 general elections.
Senator Ishaq Dar had successfully led talks with the PTI back then and the soft-spoken Pervaiz Rasheed, Ahsan Iqbal and Abdul Qadir Baloch were roped in for the negotiations, as and when required.
When asked why PM appointed the two incendiary ministers to the all-important committee, a senior member of the federal cabinet argued that when the opposition was represented by Senator Aitzaz Ahsan, why would the government field anyone less than a full-fledged gladiator.
Aitzaz Ahsan, he said, literally skewers the prime minister and his family over Panamagate, both inside and outside parliament, “and they want us to confront him with Ahsan Iqbal or Pervaiz Rasheed?”
Knowing that the PPP veteran would bring his legal expertise, coupled with decades of parliamentary experience, into play, the government has fielded both hawks and doves who can effectively cover all flanks, the minister said.
Another PML-N source argued that it was the government whose reputation was at stake. The opposition has nothing to lose, while “two years down the road, we have general elections. So how can we take the risk of allowing the opposition to bulldoze us under the Panama Papers leak?”
For a senior PTI leader, who is also a close aide to party chairman Imran Khan, “The PTI will not let the parliamentary committee drag on, which the government is looking to do. They want to expand the scope of investigations, whereas we want to narrow them down.”
Published in Dawn, May 27th, 2016