Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf will soon be in the streets again to agitate for their political grievances, but with what prospects? That is the question those who watched their tenacious and noisy sit-in outside the Parliament House in Islamabad in 2014 for 126 days ask. It had started on August 14 - as will the latest one - against rigging in the May 2013 general elections, allegedly to benefit PML-N. A demand for the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was incorporated as the protest gathered momentum.
All their sustained ire achieved was a compromise that a judicial commission should inquire into the PTI allegations. It found some misconduct on the part of the Election Commission of Pakistan but no evidence of “systematic rigging”. Evidently, this did not satisfy the PTI and it is again taking to the roads after two years with old wounds and a new battle cry of “accountability” of the prime minister and his ilk.
Undoubtedly, Imran Khan and his party found the time opportune for their “movement for accountability”. The Panama Papers revelations about off-shore companies facilitating the financial misconduct of the world’s elite in April this year set the stage for such protests in many countries.
By their own admission and documentary evidence, two sons and a daughter of the prime minister emerged as beneficiary owners of offshore companies set up in the British Virgin Island tax haven. They also owned properties in London’s exclusive Park Lane neighbourhood right across the fabled Hyde Park. It is not illegal to set up off-shore businesses, but questions arose about the propriety of the transfer of huge amounts which went into buying these properties and businesses. Other opposition parties also demanded a free and fair investigation into the money trail.
Dawn spoke to a number of PTI office bearers and lawmakers, as well as leaders of the ruling PML-N to get to the bottom. What emerged most interesting from the background discussions was that many within the PTI aren’t for the accountability movement, at least not at this point in time, though an overwhelming majority of the party leaders was all for go.
For the latter the Panama Papers presented a godsend opportunity not to be missed. They want to take the rulers head-on but sounded not sure that party workers share their enthusiasm for a fight.
“We have already gone to the Election Commission against the prime minister and are weighing the option of going to the Supreme Court,” said a PTI insider. “We should have waited for the outcome of these petitions before challenging the government on the roads.”
Then, he noted, the parliament’s Terms of Reference Committee is still discussing how to deal with the Panama Papers issue and PTI has not opted out of it.
More importantly, he added that the PTI workers were feeling fatigued with repeated rallies and protest demonstrations.
“God forbid, if party workers don’t turn up in strength - the reason could be the punishing weather or anything - it will have serious consequences for the party,” commented another PTI leader.
Some in the PTI, however, disagree with such arguments.
“Hasn’t Imran Khan been accusing the Sharif brothers of money laundering and buying properties abroad for years? And now when the accusations have been vindicated, you are asking us to hold back and stay home,” said a PTI leader itching for a fight.
“For us the issue isn’t one of bigger or smaller rallies but the critical nature of the issue of corruption involving the first family of the country,” he added, claiming that PTI workers always responded to their leader’s calls.
Another party enthusiast for street agitation said it will put pressure on the institutions stocked with petitions against the prime minister. PTI could neither let the opportunity go nor afford failure of the movement, he said.
While closely watching PTI’s moves, the ruling PML-N, however, doesn’t look overly worried.
“With the next elections less than two years away, we are more worried about ending load shedding than anything else,” a cabinet minister told Dawn.
Though the scandal kicked up over Panama Papers stirred the government for a while, he said whatever has been presented so far as evidence did not hit the prime minister directly. Therefore, the minister contended that performance of the government will count with the people going to vote in the next general elections.
Independent observers, however, think the Panama Papers revelations are too important to be swept under the carpet. They would wait for the developments in the coming months to determine how politics is played out in the run up to next general elections, due in May 2018.
Published in Dawn, August 5th, 2016