THE Broadsheet controversy may be poised to open up a Pandora’s Box. Reportedly, the government is planning to substantially widen the scope of the investigation into the saga by the one-man commission of retired Supreme Court judge Azmat Saeed Sheikh that it has decided to constitute for the purpose. As per this plan, Mr Sheikh would look into what became of the individuals named in the UK court’s final award on quantum to Broadsheet LLC in December 2018. The commission will have the same powers of contempt as those enjoyed by the high courts. It would be able to punish individuals for bringing it into contempt, interfering with its workings, and so on. What it uncovers in the process would reveal the steep price that Pakistan has paid in allowing allegedly corrupt individuals to go free through half-baked and misdirected attempts to bring back their ill-gotten gains from abroad.

On the face of it, the objective appears laudable, and very much in keeping with Prime Minister Imran Khan’s desire to ‘drain the swamp’. However, one does not have to look far to perceive there may be more to it than meets the eye. Firstly, there is the timing. The PTI has become embroiled in a rather sticky situation with reference to the foreign funding case against it, and is fighting back by filing a tit-for-tat case against the JUI-F. Expanding the Broadsheet inquiry to encompass what are bound to be some of the individuals arrayed in opposition against the PTI government would serve as an opportune distraction from the ruling party’s current discomfiture. The sound and the fury could be dialled up several notches to drown out voices calling for the government to present itself for accountability. Secondly, the outcome of the inquiry may also offer fresh grounds on which to denounce past governments as corrupt and incompetent. In other words, the Broadsheet inquiry offers another avenue through which to force the leaders of the Pakistan Democratic Movement on the back foot.

Published in Dawn, January 28th, 2021

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