In a recent newspaper column in the Turkish daily, ‘YeniSafak’, a Turkish columnist called former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s ouster as a ‘judicial coup’ in Pakistan. According to him, what he calls conspiracies were hatched and executed in Turkey’s recent past as well but they failed due to the awareness and prompt action of the Turkish people. He ends his column with the following lines: “Fortunately, Turkey is not like Pakistan. President Erdogan is not like Sharif and the Turkish people are not like Pakistanis.”
I don’t endorse the writer’s view of there being a conspiracy anywhere in the Panama affair but the words of the Turkish writer are a stark reality check for us, even though they carry a condescending tone towards Pakistanis. It is a recorded fact that our history is replete with examples of ambitious individuals disrupting the political evolution of our country with the overt and covert support of state organs.
The stunted growth of our political landscape is more representative of an infant state rather than one which is seventy years into its independence. This has not gone unnoticed or unappreciated even amongst our friends and well-wishers. As a majority we have been too yielding, ambivalent or simply incapable of responding to iffy situations. Surely, this is not because we have always believed in the righteousness of events.
Before Panama was brought to the honorable Supreme Court, when Imran Khan was giving us all a fine lesson in agitation-politics, many opinion makers were beseeching Khan to take the matter to court. If indeed billions had been siphoned off from the public exchequer using illicit channels and there was undisputed proof of it then what better forum for the matter to be adjudicated upon than the apex court? However the sequence of events that followed, from the filing of the case, to the daily hearings inside and outside the court premises, in the media and now with the final judgment, has left all those advocating the same clutching the wooden spoon.
If the expectation was that by having a judicial hearing of the Panama scandal we would be strengthening the fledgling accountability apparatus in Pakistan and the untouchables would finally become touchable with the real essence of democracy finally taking root in Pakistan then not much ground has been made except leaving a bad taste in our mouths. Not a single case comes to mind from the recent past when more state institutions have been undermined, more populism resorted to and more partisanship displayed in the media.
Our people will receive a rude shock now that Nawaz Sharif is gone but Pakistan’s problems haven’t. Our problems come not necessarily because of who occupies the PM House but stay because the entire country’s house is out of order. Consider this: even though the disqualification of the ex-prime minister was on a misdeclaration of assets, the popular narrative from the opposition was still that the ouster was inextricably linked to corruption. I admire how Pakistanis keep wondering with religious zeal why things don’t improve here.
When the PPP came to power in 2008 there was a general consensus that our politicians had reformed themselves; the ill-conceived tendencies and aspirations of the past had been shunned and given way to a more mature and statesman-like brand of politics. But then the PTI found popularity amongst some segments of the masses, and the worrying trend of willing protagonists fomenting instability in the political realm continued, all in the name of ‘tabdeeli’.
Nawaz Sharif has also erred in the past on similar grounds. It is ironic how things have come full circle with him. However, what is more ironic is that graft charges can always be brought along against any political leader in Pakistan. The Panama Papers were a scandal of alleged tax-evasion and money laundering from almost thirty years ago, and not from the recent past. Such is the dynamics of doing politics here.
The most profound question in this scenario which begs an answer is that are we forever condemned to such a cycle of premature endings on one pretext or the other? The previous generation has passed this tradition onto the current one. Will the current generation pass this ignominious tradition onto the next one and so on and so forth?
My answer is that this maze has no end unless things change dramatically. Otherwise, it will always lead back to the start.
The writer is a professional services
consultant and a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.