Most commentators analysing the fate of Pakistan’s long-beleaguered Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif agree that the findings of the Joint Investigating Team (JIT) probing the huge business empire of Nawaz, his siblings and progeny, are highly damaging and could spell doom for the ‘first family’. Some of the comments are disparaging and scathing, to say the least.
The Panama Leaks, detailing the stealthy commercial shenanigans of many world political leaders, in the spring of 2016, are history in most countries. But not in Pakistan. There, the issue has been a national preoccupation and of utmost interest to all and sundry ever since.
The ‘Panama papers’ or ‘Panama gate’, its more popular sobriquet in Pakistan, became a national obsession because the prime minister and his extended family were involved.
What the ‘leaks’ revealed wasn’t novel. The people of Pakistan have had a fairly good inkling of how the Sharifs had risen from obscurity to political stardom in the span of only two generations. What had astounded most was their gathering of business fortunes in the process. Theirs was a story of typical carpetbaggers becoming fabulously rich overnight.
Nawaz’s father was a man of humble origins from a little village outside Amritsar in India’s Punjab. He was a maker of run-of-the-mill metal pots and pans. But then, he knew the art of giving ego-massages to the denizens of power in Punjab, Pakistan’s heartland, that eventually paved the way for his sons to enter politics and use it as a vehicle to lard huge business fortunes of dubious provenance.
The Panama Leaks opened a Pandora’s box as far as the Sharifs’ shady business enterprises were concerned. The people of Pakistan, who had earlier believed they knew all they needed to about the Sharifs, were stunned to learn of half-a-dozen offshore companies registered in the names of Nawaz’s children.
The revelations spoke of a web of questionable business undertakings of the PM’s progeny, ensconced in the plush comfort of four luxury flats in London’s most expensive mile of prime properties.
Such was the deafening roar of the people—taken to a crescendo by an iconic Imran Khan, the Nawaz family’s unrelenting tormentor—for accountability from the PM and his siblings and progeny that the country’s Supreme Court was compelled to start legal proceedings to get to the bottom of the sordid saga of corruption leading its trail up to Nawaz’s doorstep.
It was the apex court’s hung verdict—with two of the five judges finding Nawaz guilty of heading a ‘Sicilian mafia’ with the other three opting for a more thorough look into the family’s extensive business activities—of April 20, that spawned the need for the JIT to probe the saga of the Pakistani first family’s alleged money lust. The JIT was given 60 days to come up with its report. The submission of JIT’s report to the apex court, on July 10, instantly triggered a train of speculations and prognoses about Nawaz’s political future, with much of the fodder coming from the report’s damaging findings of his family’s ill-begotten billions.
The JIT found Nawaz—who appeared before it, a first in Pakistan’s chequered history with a sitting PM being grilled—“evasive, speculative and non-cooperative”. Put on the mat, Nawaz was found deliberately “parry(ing) most of the questions” put to him “ostensibly to conceal facts”.
Nawaz’s two sons, ensconced in the four high-end Mayfair flats for more than two decades and presiding over the shady businesses from there, didn’t do any better, either. They dug themselves into holes by coming up with contradictory statements and obfuscating about the money-trail that has led them to El Dorado.
Official communications from the governments of UAE and Qatar—on which Nawaz’s team of defence lawyers banked so much, gave a thumbs down to the Sharif family’s canards.
Documentation from Dubai revealed Nawaz—who had strongly protested his non-involvement in the businesses of his two sons—was still a share-holder in a business enterprise located in Jebel Ali and drawing a monthly salary of ten thousand Dirhams. But the most damaging and sensational of all is JIT finding the ‘first daughter’ Maryam Nawaz guilty of submitting bogus and fabricated documents to it in an attempt to establish her ‘innocence’.
Surprisingly, and most interestingly, Maryam seems to have been done in by technology. The JIT found out she submitted an affidavit—proving her being lily-white—backdated to 2006, but using the Calibri font of Microsoft Word that hit the market for the first time in January 2007, while her affidavit bears the date of February 2006.
Maryam is, or was until now, Nawaz’s heir-apparent, groomed by him, a la Indira Gandhi anointed by Pandit Nehru or Benazir by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. She has long taken upon herself to tweet, abrasively, Donald Trump-style, almost daily, to be her father’s spokesperson. Her tweets, at times, have had more vitriol than Trump’s.
The JIT report has lobbed the ball back into the court of the apex court. However, at the bar of the people’s court, Nawaz and his thieving clan—family and friends included—have already been found guilty and condemned. As for Nawaz’s political detractors and opponents, led by a cavalier Imran Khan, they all think his goose has been cooked. The chorus for Nawaz’s immediate resignation is reaching a feverish pitch, already.
Not surprisingly, the band of thieves larding his party’s cadres has chosen to hit back questioning JIT’s impartiality. Their ploy seems focused on provoking a political crisis to spawn anarchy that may force the hands of a thus-far quiet-spectator-like military brass to intervene. Nawaz may relish the idea of becoming a political martyr.
But the apex court may still have the last word in the episode. The drama has just begun.
Karamatullah K Ghori
Former Pakistani diplomat