Nawaz Sharif has them coming from three directions, four if some pending issues of Model Town are to be included too. But when the Panama leaks first hit, he was defiant, then tentative, and then the final Pakistani resort, ‘mitti pao’. It will soon be lost in the dust of time. Except, it did not. Credit then to Imran Khan for keeping the issue alive. Otherwise, we Pakistanis, or more generally northern subcontinentals, have this great penchant for moving on.
But Imran Khan is bent upon extracting a price for this public good. On finding that the usual institutions meant to inquire into financial wrongdoing would just not move against a man of power, he not only has gone to the Supreme Court seeking an injunction over the matter, but has also called for a million-man march on the capital followed by a sit-in till either Nawaz Sharif resigns or puts himself up for a legal scrutiny. On the second, the mechanisms are not yet in place but it just adds to the portfolio of choices.
In amplifying his ways of carrying out his plan, Imran Khan will not let the government function through his sit-in. When questions were raised on locking people in and usurping their right of free movement, or denying the children their schooling, or disabling the sick from making it to the hospitals, his retorts have mostly ranged from seeking a sacrifice from the people of Islamabad for a greater good which ultimately will bring all far greater and glorious returns, to paining those even more who whine in the fear of being marooned for God knows how long. The last time his sit-in was a 126 days long. And it was a pain.
There is though an issue with it: IK doesn’t have a Plan B. NS is unlikely to resign simply because some kids cannot get to school; in the larger plan these are but routine for both of them. And on the second option parliament is the only platform to formulate bodies, rules and mechanisms to investigate the allegations of misappropriation against Nawaz Sharif; but, the PTI and their leader Imran Khan have boycotted parliament and will simply not attend its convention. So, no investigative bodies, no laws and mechanisms to bring the Sharifs to the book, and the Sharifs won’t resign either. This is a classic non sequitur.
Yet IK’s plan to march and sit-in is a mounting challenge for NS and his government. How do they deal with his foolhardiness? By force? Which means giving him even greater cause to his objective and framing NS even more deeply in his misdoings. Or, by letting him be, and suffering the ignominy of ruling from a shackled capital?
And don’t forget Nawaz’s October itch. He or his people, somewhere along the line while all this was being arrayed against him, chose to create a home-grown Dawn-gate test for his government. Someone leaked a story to Dawn on how the military had really been painted in the corner by the government to give up on surrogating the baddies who continue to irk the global and regional sensitivities. It would have been a masterstroke, had it worked. It did not.
One, it framed the military in a very bad light, vis-a-vis a competitive Nawaz who has been unable to curb his instincts of finding an opportunity to take on the military, deepening the fissures between the government and the military. Two, it inalienably also framed the country he governs and its society reinforcing the global apprehensions of us sponsoring terror – something Narendra Modi is working hard to implant. Three, the leaks from a highly sensitive meeting on security between the who’s who in the government meant nothing is safe at the PM House and that the Official Secrets Act was the last thing on anyone’s mind there while undertaking this sting.
Four, if bringing his perceived adversaries a bad name means giving up on some national secrets, so be it. And finally, he ends up committing the act and then being caught in it at the moment when his most popular army chief is just about hanging his boots after a tenure that has seen global recognition and universal praise within the country.
NS was found wrong all counts. This is his third challenge, all cumulatively staring him in the eye.
Could these have been avoided? Let’s go back to the original sin. Pardon NS his default twitch about the military. With some understanding all around the matters have been kept functional between the two despite the proclivity. But the Panama leaks was another point. It had international recognition for authenticity with ramifications far and wide. Those mentioned in the leaks either resigned or clarified their position.
The PM in Pakistan, however, shied away from any scrutiny. His explanations were weak and fell far short of explaining his position. Perhaps the only way out was placing himself before a body for clearing his position. However, in first dithering from appointing a body and then in failing to come to agreement on the TORs the government missed the boat. It finds itself in even warmer waters now.
Review for a moment what could have happened were the PM to offer himself for scrutiny. The alleged money-laundering took place either in or before 1993. Was it a crime then? Was there a leeway in the existing laws to mitigate the severity of the misstep? Can the misstep be tried more than two decades later? What sort of evidence is still available to indict him, if at all? Could he have escaped legal scrutiny on non-payment of tax because of the laws in vogue then, or now?
In the hands of a smart lawyer there is usually enough to deflect a white-collar crime. Collecting evidence from other countries because of the complexities involved usually stretches the whole process out for long. Laws today, with those in 1993, would have offered him various escape clauses. But he let it all go, hoping he could ride through it all to safer shores under a cloud of dust. Not to be.
As a result, we will be staring into a million-march crowd, unsure which way the dice will roll for the nation and its people. Not that IK is perfect, but he is persistent alright. Knowing your adversary before launching into a battle is the foremost rule for success. NS failed to understand the stakes. He has also been cavalier with the responsibility that lay on his shoulders and has placed the state and the nation in a quandary.
What worse position can it be than to await arbitration from an agency that you have had the proclivity to continuously malign? That is the hole NS finds himself in. Yet that may be his only redemption.