A PARLIAMENTARY committee tasked with drawing up the terms of reference for a judicial inquiry into the Panama Papers leaks is deadlocked with an increasingly frustrated opposition threatening to take its protest to the streets if the issue isn’t resolved soon — and what do we get?
Well, we get the video of the imprisoned Dr Asim Hussain, bosom buddy and confidant of former president Asif Ali Zardari whose PPP is among the opposition parties now raising the possibility of resorting to street agitation.
In the leaked video, lapped up by TV channels and reported by all media, Dr Hussain is seen and heard telling his interrogators how corrupt the former president’s adoptive brother, Owais Muzaffar Tappi, is. Tappi, along with Asif Zardari’s sister Feryal Talpur, was at one point seen as the de facto Sindh chief minister.
What is the revelatory angle in this whole episode? Anyone who has even a passing knowledge of the PPP’s working knows well that Tappi, up to his departure to foreign lands, and Ms Talpur, on an ongoing basis, are the ones who make all the crucial calls in Sindh with the soft-spoken Syed Qaim Ali Shah quietly serving as the rubber stamp.
Yes, Mr Zardari’s family members and friends are reputed to have their hand in every pie from postings and transfers to award of government contracts to land deals with dodgy developers or wherever a profit is to be made, and are never to be found far from the action.
The interesting aspect of this leak, notwithstanding questions regarding the legality and ethics of its release, is that it is being traced to Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan by the media. Mr Khan can forgive a million sins including the murder of the innocent by anyone with a religious agenda, no matter how odious, but hates non-religious forces with a passion.
The interesting aspect of the latest leak is that it is being traced to the interior minister by the media.
He has expressed disdain at the PPP’s corruption with good reason but uses a different yardstick for the corruption of the PML-N. However, his criteria for judging those who commit mass murder in the name of faith are a paradox as he is often found empathising with them.
Analysts say the purpose behind the leaked video, which the media carried without even identifying its source (ethical considerations are not very high on media organisations’ priorities), was to bring some pressure to bear on the PPP so it softens its stance on the Panama Papers probe ToRs.
Funnily enough, if that was what PML-N and Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan were hoping to achieve then their wisdom is no greater than that of the agency officials who leaked convicted murderer Saulat Mirza’s video statement where he implicated MQM’s senior leaders in his crime. He was executed last year for the murder of senior civil servant Malik Shahid Hamid in the 1990s.
The whole idea behind that leak seemed to be to discredit the MQM’s London-based senior leadership. But, as by-elections in Karachi (after Mirza’s video statement was released) demonstrated, it had minimal or no effect whatsoever, given the party’s big wins.
At least as we speak, MQM’s thuggish ways and PPP’s corruption to the diehard supporters of the two parties in the bastions of their power are a mere figment of their enemies’ imagination. Otherwise, why would voters repeatedly ignore all such stories and continue to return their candidates to parliament.
In fact, the security-prosecution-judicial apparatus has been in such a state that hardly anyone having the backing of a political or religious party has ever been convicted of corruption and/or murder, with evidence and witnesses in such short supply as to make the whole trial process a farce.
Saulat Mirza was tried, convicted and executed for the murder of Shahid Hamid mainly because of the dedicated and dignified struggle and perseverance of the murdered man’s family or he would have been acquitted too like many other hitmen.
It, therefore, follows that leaked video-taped confessions of a leader or an activist may discredit a party before those watching things from a distance. For the diehard supporters, these just reinforce the persecution complex of the rank and file and lead to further cementing of their support for the targeted party.
For years, we have had enhanced allocations for security agencies which is fine given the threat we face, among others, from terrorist groups. But for the investigations and prosecution arms having received no boost is unpardonable. The state needs to focus attention here.
An even-handed enforcement of the law slowly but surely contributes to greater confidence among the people. Any other means of ‘enforcing the law’ ie via leaked video statements/confessions will erode the writ of the state as it brings into question its objectives. In addition, it is of paramount importance that where the state agencies are evidently at fault they demonstrate how they have moved to correct the anomaly. For example, early last month, MQM activist Aftab Ahmad was tortured to death while in Rangers custody.
It has been six weeks since his death but there is still no word on what the Rangers internal inquiry found and if at all cases were registered against those responsible. It isn’t enough for the Rangers to conduct an inquiry. The findings should be made public.
If this does not happen, the conduct of the Rangers will be seen as no better than the party’s which embraced violence as central to its philosophy — and the paramilitaries say they have been trying to bring to justice.
Dispensation of justice and even-handed and above-board enforcement of the law are the only vehicles for creating a law-abiding society. Any short cuts or ‘innovations’ are doomed to failure. The sooner we realise this the better it will be.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
Published in Dawn, June 18th, 2016