Pakistan’s Supreme Court seems to have done a holding job in ordering a probe into the Panama Gate into the alleged financial dealings of the family members of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. It is a hold job in that the probe is expected to please the all-powerful army, keep the politicians on toes and the bureaucracy and the media, busy. The please-all exercise may or may not succeed in pleasing anyone, but can postpone the worsening crisis into exploding.
It shows the judiciary as the arbiter in the inter-institutional tussle. It also silences, at least for the time being, PM’s political opponents. They have no locus standi to be on a Supreme Court-ordered official probe, and can target the PM only a up to a point. Everyone would now say, let the JIT work, and let us wait for the findings by the JIT, etc.
As for the man on the street — one who can read, write and discern, that is– it all varies from wait and see to cynicism, going by record of past inquiries. Everyone knows corruption in high places is not but to go away. To a serious observer of Pakistan, however, it is most significant that the country’s apex court — no less — has stipulated that representatives of the army are on the SIT: so much for the democracy and the respect and relevance of the democratically elected government.
It is equally significant that officers are basically from the middle level hierarchy– officers of grades 20 and 21 — who would have been selected/ nominated for the task as per the wishes of their departmental chiefs. The hold of the political leadership on these departmental chiefs may vary. But then, everyone on the SIT can be expected to take the signals from the powers that be.
Also significant is the fact that none of the officials on the six-member committee, called the joint investigation team (JIT) that will investigate the Panama Papers is an expert required for such a probe. Dealing with financial irregularities is at the best, one of the tasks they may have performed in their duties.
The army’s role, though significant, is not too high profile. And it has more to do with intelligence. There is a brigadier who has served in the ISI and in MI. He would, of course, take the cue from his bosses. Leader of the JIT is Federal Investigation Agency’s Additional Director General (immigration) Wajid Zia, a grade 21 officer. From the Police Service, he served twice in the Intelligence Bureau and Motorway Police. He also worked in the Economic Crimes Wing of the FIA. He has limited field experience in the police.
Like Zia, Amer Aziz of the State Bank of Pakistan is a grade 21 officer. Abanker though, he has been out of mainstream banking for around seven years since becoming the managing director of the National Institute of Banking And Finance (NIBAF) on deputation in 2010 Aziz also served in the National Accountability Bureau briefly during Gen Musharraf’s government.
Bilal Rasool is an executive director of the Securities & Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP). But he is currently working in the media and corporate communications and translation department at the SECP secretariat. sNaeem Mangi, an officer in grade 20, who is currently serving in Quetta as the director general of NAB, Balochistan.
Prior to his posting in Quetta some two weeks ago, he was the NAB DG of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and acting director (operations) of the bureau. Only Mangi has expertise in probing white-collar crime and recently completed a national management course for promotion to grade 21.
Those least known to the public are the soldiers from the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Military Intelligence (MI). Retired Brig Muhammad Nauman Saeed is the director of one of the wings of internal security in the ISI. He served in the ISI for almost three years and retired from active service in the army in 2016. After passing out from the 71st long course, he joined the Armoured Corps of the Pakistan Army.
However, Retired Brig Nauman Saeed and Brig Kamran Khurshid from the MI are well known in the army for their expertise in conducting inquiries. What is before Pakistan’s people bow is a serving prime minister an his family accused of corruption; the petitioners representing an array of political opposition; the hearings initiated by a chief justice of Pakistan, who intervened to prevent a potentially catastrophic political confrontation in Islamabad; and an evidentiary trail rooted in the explosive Panama Papers, which caused ripples across the globe.
This is because the court has found that it does not have enough evidence to give the opposition what it wants, but it does have enough doubts to demand a joint investigation team probe Prime Minister Nawa Sharif and his family. The verdict was immediately hailed by the government as a victory; and, perhaps half-heartedly, used by the PTI to demand yet again that the prime minister temporarily step aside. Both reactions were predictable and not likely to be implemented.
A full examination of its contents is unlikely; the days ahead will yield more details and informed opinion, supportive and critical of the judgment. Yet, there is an anomaly that can be immediately identified and that perhaps the court has not thought through the implications of.
The JIT itself is effectively a dead end. The record of JITs in other politically charged matters make it clear that no great surprises ought to be expected. Pakistan watchers say the inclusion of military-run intelligence agencies in a probe against a serving prime minister in matters of finance and the law is remarkable — and a precedent that should not be established. It is not a question of who the prime minister is or civilians being above the law. There is absolutely no doubt that as prime minister, Mr Sharif must be held to a greater level of scrutiny than the average citizen. What is concerning about the composition of the JIT, especially with the inclusion of a Military Intelligence representative, is the signal it sends about the lack of institutional trust, Dawn newspaper said in its editorial.
Civilian matters should be probed, adjudicated and resolved in the civilian domain. And if the court has little faith in civilian institutions, as it indicated in its verdict, it could have put itstrust in a judicial commission. The move comes soon after the military courts received a formal approval from the National Assembly a second time amidst concerns expressed from the civil society. At the heart of the Panama Papers petitions lay a simple idea — thatlong-standing political families in the country use the system to enhance their personal wealth. Credit for pushing that simple idea — both intuitive and with decades of circumstantial evidence to support it — all the way to the Supreme Court and against a serving primeminister must go to Imran Khan and his PTI.
Khan’s tactics, especially a threatened lockdown of Islamabad, were often unwarranted and occasionally indefensible, but corruption is an undeniable facet of political life in Pakistan and must be seriously addressed.Sharif may still have his job and his family has not been convicted of any wrongdoing as yet, but it is troubling that the family appears to regard financial probity as a matter of politics — that somehow continuing political support and the backing of the electorate in the last general election means that it has nothing to answer for. At best, Mr Sharif will emerge from this episode with a tainted legacy.
The opposition has peddled rumour and allegation as fact and, in the case of the PTI, is yet to develop a political vision that goes beyond the prime minister’s ouster. Meanwhile, institutions have continued to wither and parliament is in the doldrums, a neglected body from where great democratic ideas and institutional changes ought to spring. The unprecedented, court-stipulated move to include army personnel in a probe against the prime minister is ominous for democracy. After all, Sharif is a legitimately elected prime minister; what he and his family have failed to prove so far is that their wealth has beenlegitimately acquired.