Panama Verdict from Court Room # 1 to Public arena by Abdul Q. Kundi

Magnanimity is in short supply among politicians these days. This is not unique to Pakistan but rather a global dynamic. July 28th is certainly a historic day but I don’t think there is anything to celebrate about it. Fall from grace of a person is not and should not be a reason for celebration but rather an event for introspection. All big-name opposition politicians Imran Khan, Asif Ali Zardari, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Khursheed Shah, and Siraj ul Haq demanded that an elected Prime Minister resign but failed as PM did not resign on their demand but was rather sent home by Supreme Court. Throughout Panama case proceedings I maintained the political position that an elected Prime Minister should not resign but should be sent home through a due process. Cult of Imran Khan considered it a support for Nawaz Sharif and labeled me as a traitor. They fail to understand that every politician big or small pursue their own politics. My position of due process prevailed over theirs and I am satisfied today that I achieved the objective but ultimate success is still far. Now let me explain why I took that position and what were my political objective.

My political objectives are the transformation of Pakistani politics and development of credible institutions. If an elected PM had resigned and only an MNA was disqualified by the Supreme Court then the pressure would not have been built to achieve that objective. By putting an elected PM on the block, I wanted to put the burden of history on four key segments politicians, Supreme Court, voters (awaam), and military establishment. Let’s analyze the conduct of all four in Panama case.

Politicians, as expected, were in pursuit of either saving their power as demonstrated by PML N or engage in a game of thrones as demonstrated by Imran Khan, Siraj Ul Haq, Asif Ali Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. None of them showed that they are against corruption or interested in institution building and reforms. Opposition politicians focused on Nawaz Sharif family and totally ignored structural changes. All of them engaged in undemocratic behavior in personalized attack on each other and tried their best to influence institutions to carry their agenda. They have all weakened the democratic project and its effects will be felt for a long time. One thing should be clear to the nation that none of them are either democratic or interested in strengthening democratic institutions. They are in pursuit of power just for the sake of personal ambition.

Supreme Court has a problem of perception and once again they have to deal with it. There may now emerge a perception that Supreme Court is equally unjust to all whether common man or a Prime Minister. Throughout Panama case verdict they acted as a political party rather than a platform of justice that is blind to social status of a person, restrained by the articles of law, and unbiased in its pursuit of justice. Their quotes that all fortunes are earned through corruption or that politicians are Sicilian Mafia showed their bias and distrust of political class. They allowed promotion of alternate truth and social media propaganda to prepare grounds for their verdict. Another thing is clear that when Judges and State go after someone then no one is more powerful than that. At the start of Panama, it was suggested that the prosecution should start from most powerful and then move to others. So now Supreme Court should take immediate actions to develop credibility of their institution. First, they should set up a JIT to investigate and prosecute all people named in Panama papers. Second General Musharraf that used a questionable medical certificate to leave the country should be brought back and tried in all the cases pending against him. The doctor that issued a questionable certificate should also be prosecuted if found guilty.

In every country military establishment engages in politics as control of coercive power is political by nature. But the level and method of involvement is different in each country. If anyone says that military is not involved in politics of Pakistan today or that they had no role to play in Panama papers then they are unrealistic. The inclusion of MI and ISI in JIT. Rejection tweet by DG ISPR. And the meeting between COAS and Imran Khan, front man of Panama case, were all political acts and sent a message. The only difference between now and 1990s is that in 1990s assemblies did not complete its term. But now PMs don’t complete their term. The military still distrusts politicians and want to retain complete control of foreign and security policy. They are still engaged in political engineering. It is good that they have decided not to abrogate constitution and assume power themselves. But they should remember that history has not been kind to military dictators and hold them responsible for major political disasters in the country. They need to further withdraw from politics and focus on their mandate of securing the borders and stop infiltration of foreign terrorists. Their voice in security and foreign policy is important but should not lead it.

Awaam will speak through the ballot box but social media, dominated by educated middle class, had already convicted elected PM to be corrupt and issued their verdict many weeks ago. Traditionally educated middle class, for example, Jamat-e-Islami, MQM & PTI, sided with military dictators and has been impatient with civilian rule. It is about time that political activists exert pressure on their parties to reform and become more democratic. Talented people in the country should come forward and become part of political parties so that they have an opportunity to lead. They should not cede space to corrupt electable just because someone told them they cannot win elections. Talented people may lose election one or two times but that experience of contesting will enable them to develop the expertise to win elections.

What is the way forward? Individual Nawaz Sharif should exercise his constitutional right to clear his and his family’s name in corruption cases. Politician Nawaz Sharif should realize that he has been Prime Minister three times and now he should become a mentor to develop next generation of leaders. History will judge him as a Prime Minister and no Supreme Court verdict can impact that. I have similar advice for Asif Ali Zardari too. Our nation lacks senior politicians that can become mentors and become a guide to all rather than their own sons and daughters. Despite personal weaknesses and failings of Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari no one can deny that they have deep knowledge of politics and statecraft. Imran Khan has a political dilemma to resolve. He has to now fight with the perception that he has not been the tool of a conspiracy to oust a popular leader of Punjab. He has to prove that he is the new representative of the largest province. It is yet to be seen whether Punjab will treat Imran Khan as a hero or a villain that overthrow someone credited with developing the province. Punjab will now feel that Sind can’t claim that only their popular Prime Minister are punished by the Supreme Court. This may be a good omen for a stronger federation. Assemblies should complete its term and elect a new Prime Minister that has the confidence of the majority members. PML N should not seek revenge politics and try to beat Imran Khan at the polling station in next general elections. Asif Ali Zardari model of democracy-is-the-best revenge is good one to follow. Electoral reforms should be finalized on the urgent basis that includes amending articles 62, 63 and 63A.

My suggestions may be considered an idealist view but it is about time we pursue some idealism and ideology rather than politics of revenge and blind ambition.

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