There is a tale that is slowly being unravelled as the contents of the Paradise Papers become public. It has all the travails of Pakistan’s encounters with dictatorships and the behind the scenes deals that are made to keep them in power. Ever since the Panama Papers were leaked two years ago, it has become clear that Pakistan needs to carry out a broad-based investigation into corruption, particularly into those who have stashed their untaxed wealth abroad. An investigative report by this newspaper has discovered that such an investigation was in fact launched during the rule of Gen (r) Pervez Musharraf although, as with most things done in that time, it appears to have been done to target the dictator’s enemies and was conducted in such an unprofessional and questionable manner that one cannot be sure what its true intentions were.
The bizarre story begins in 2000, when the National Accountability Bureau hired the services of an offshore company – Broadsheet – to track the assets of more than 200 politicians, bureaucrats and generals, although missing from the list were those who were allied to the general. The company was promised 20 percent of all the assets recovered by NAB, which later reneged on the agreement and is now stuck in international arbitration with the company. On top of that, NAB paid out $1.5 million in a settlement with a man it thought represented the company but had actually already left it. The company itself has now been liquidated and it appears NAB was its only client.
This story raises more questions than it provides answers. Since the company itself is unknown, could it be possible that it was set up as a way to funnel money that properly should have gone to the national exchequer into the hands of individuals? Why was the agreement with the company kept secret and not even vetted by the finance and law ministries? Who were the owners of the company and what credentials did they have in the field of asset controversy? What we can say with certainty is that this was yet another attempt by Musharraf to hound his opponents. Notably absent from the list are such Musharraf allies as the Chaudhry brothers while those who are on the list but later joined the King’s Party never had any action taken against them. By now, everyone knows that accountability in the Musharraf era was a synonym for political victimisation and his actions are costing us to this day as the government is embroiled in a costly legal dispute with the company. The lesson we should learn from this is that the process of accountability should not only play no favourites, it must be as public as possible so that we know that those who are tasked with rooting out corruption do not have one hand in the till themselves.