In a society as stagnant, socially retarded, lie-ridden and hypocrisy-painted as ours disruption and disorder are creative impulses, shaking up the old and paving the way for the new. Beneath the noise and the chaos something of the sort is happening in Pakistan.
Who would have thought that the name Qatar would become a standing joke across the length and breadth of Pakistan? Utter it and the point has come where people burst out laughing. This is because of the two Qatari letters in defence of Pakistan’s Panama-hit prime minister, Nawaz Sharif. The defence offered in the letters would make even those totally devoid of humour laugh. You wouldn’t include this story in the Arabian Nights.
Yet the prime minister and his lawyers are basing their entire defence on these pages from Qatari literature, because that is the only thing they have. No bank statements, no money transfers in black and white…just his royal highness’s word that the Sharifian patriarch, Mian Muhammad Sharif, now with his Maker, transferred cash from Dubai to Qatar to invest in the real-estate business of the Al-Thanis, Qatar’s ruling clan. This at a time when Qatar was but a sleepy fishing village with nothing much to its name, and no real estate business that anyone could detect even through a powerful telescope.
But with a straight face these yarns are being spun. The good thing is – see this as the positive side of this extended comedy – nobody in Pakistan puts any credence in these folk tales from brotherly Qatar. Not even, I can bet anything, the overworked members of the PML-N’s brass band whose days are taken up with shouting the innocence of the prime minister and his beleaguered family, and restless nights spent dreaming of ministries and glory, reward for breathless services rendered.
The newest addition to the brass band is the junior information minister, Maryam Aurangzeb, who is fast beating all others at this game. Her mother, Tahira Aurangzeb, was my colleague in the last National Assembly, a lady with a keen sense of humour. If I happen to meet her I’ll compliment her on her daughter’s performance and knowing her I wouldn’t be surprised if she cracks up into a smile, of course when no one else is looking.
There was no comedy to the PPP’s corruption performance. The PPP leadership never really pretended to be what they were not. But the PML-N is pure comedy because of the leadership’s self-righteousness. Even when everyone and their uncle are into their charming little secrets they keep a straight face and let out howls of innocence. This is the fun part, the gap between fact and make-believe. Still, they are a tough lot and their performance has to be admired.
But funniest of all, and by now I am sure there is a national consensus on this, is the role of the Princess Royal, who before the Panama cloudbursts was being painted in all the colours of the rainbow as anointed successor to the heavy mandate. Her many contradictions – trustee, authorised signatory or whatever to hide her beneficiary status relating to the London flats – are causing splits in the sides of every TV anchor across the media landscape.
The torture is exquisite, out of some Chinese handbook – Supreme Court grilling in the mornings and every TV channel attuned to nothing but this scandal, and its attendant hilarity, in the evenings. And it is going on and on, with no end in sight.
Over its long innings the PML-N has escaped so much, scandals that if connected to the PPP would have drowned several of its governments. But Panama is clinging to the Sharifs and try as they might they are not managing to shake it off.
Now from its shallow grave arises another ghost that Ishaq Dar would have prayed at every shrine for it to have remained buried forever: his confessional statement before not a firing squad but a magistrate about money-laundering relating to Nawaz Sharif…the opening of fake and forged bank accounts in London in the names of another family as the conduit for that money-laundering. The National Accountability Bureau did not pursue this case and the PPP under then president Zardari, who had his own secrets to protect, was not interested in taking up the prosecution.
So the statement was quashed in the Lahore High Court during the last government. But their lordships, dredging these murky waters, have called for that explosive confession to be placed before them. Imagine what Dar must be going through. His face often reads like an open book, the inner turmoil etched plainly on his features. After the high court judgement he could have been forgiven for thinking it was over and done with. But here from its burial chamber it pops up again.
And after the hearing yesterday there was a whole battery of PML-N loudspeakers – Anusha Rehman, Daniyal Aziz, Maiza Hameed – going on and on about the Dar statement and how it had been procured at gunpoint in ‘Musharraf’s dictatorship’…the over-protesting making plain the worry.
This case is taking a turn which few would have expected. The probing is soft but relentless and the day-to-day hearings are ensuring that the nation remains gripped with this drama. I go to Chakwal and people there talk about Panama; I go to my village Bhagwal and the talk is the same… with people aware of the contradictions and fairy tales making up this riveting this saga.
Qatari claim to fame in Pakistan was Qatari gas, Houbara bustard hunting, Saifur Rehman (remember him?) and Al-Jazeera. Who would have thought that the Qatari provenance of the letters placed before the Supreme Court would eclipse these other items of fame?
The three lawyers defending the trapped ruling family are among the brightest lawyers we have. I am friends with them all: Makhdoom Ali Khan, Shahid Hamid, Salman Raja. When my election papers were rejected Salman appeared as my lawyer, pro bono. What wouldn’t I give to accost these three musketeers over a flagon of Scotland’s finest and ask them about the Qatar literary prize which has entered into the hearing of this case?
Salman has a dry wit and likes to keep his answers short. Makhdoom knows what is what but is again cautious with his opinions. But Shahid Hamid I am sure, with his more open brand of humour, would roar with laughter…of course without saying much, obedient to the principle as most seasoned lawyers are that walls have ears.
Gen Zia could not cut the PPP down to size. That feat the PPP managed itself through the heaven-gifted device of Zardari. Only a few months ago the Sharifs seemed well nigh unassailable, all set to win the next elections. Then suddenly fell the thunderbolt called Panama, proclaimed even by the PML-N’s own product, President Mamnoon Hussain, as a bolt from the skies. And the PML-N, still in power, still with an array of voluble loudspeakers to command, seems stricken, like a wounded animal.
Did anyone foresee Brexit? How many people foresaw Donald Trump? The PPP being wiped out in Punjab…who could have pictured that? And now the Furies catching up with the PML-N and not letting it go.