Sunday June 23, 2024

Who will break the impasse?

By Azam Khalil
May 11, 2016

There seems to be a political opportunity for both the opposition and the government to move forward and break the present deadlock regarding the issue of the Panama leaks. Everyone wants to believe that both Imran Khan and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif are correct in what they want. So what is the fuss all about?

The prime minister has constituted a judicial commission as demanded by the PTI and other opposition parties, and it is expected that work will soon begin on this subject. However, the bone of contention remains the government’s terms of reference which to the opposition are meaningless and irrelevant. Perhaps if the government wants people to believe it is in the right it should accept the points being raised by the opposition parties and reconstitute new terms of reference for the commission. This will not only deflate the opposition a bit but will also provide some solace and political relief to the under-siege prime minister.

Nawaz Sharif’s rigid attitude is likely to create serious problems for the government in the foreseeable future. The issue is not as simple as some would want to believe because under the present laws – both national and international – it is difficult to find the trail of money, legal or otherwise. The world of finance is so complex and mostly shrouded in laws of secrecy that it all but becomes impossible to pinpoint accurately how people stash tons of wealth not only in offshore companies but also in certain legitimate businesses.

The government wants to believe that all those who are criticising it on this issue are enemies of this country and want to hinder progress that has been initiated by various policies of the incumbent government. On the other hand, the opposition seems to believe that the Panama leaks wealth that now stands exposed is not legitimate and, therefore, it is the right of the people to demand answers on this issue.

Politicians of all shades must take into serious consideration COAS Gen Raheel Sharif mincing no words about how his institution believes in across-the-board accountability and that corruption is as big a threat as terrorism for this country. The general matched his words with deeds when he proceeded against nearly half a dozen serving members of the brass and removed them from service on charges of misuse of official authority and corrupt practices.

It was, therefore, the duty of the government – and to a certain extent the opposition – not only to listen carefully what the army had to say but also to analyse it in the present scenario and then proceed cautiously. Attempts to filibuster the issue on any pretext will be at best an ad-hoc measure which is not likely to provide any relief to corrupt politicians or civil bureaucrats whose day of reckoning seems to be approaching fast.

So, instead of delaying the matter through various gimmicks, it would be prudent not only to sacrifice certain members of the ruling elite tainted with corruption but also to create examples that would deter other corrupt people in the country. Failure to proceed against the corrupt can lead to unforeseen consequences, which are likely to be bad not only for the country but also for the institution of democracy.

There is immense responsibility on the shoulders of Nawaz Sharif and leaders of various political parties. A consensus must be built on the terms of reference of the inquiry commission that has been constituted by the government. The heavens will not fall if some of the demands of the opposition are incorporated by the government so that the present deadly political impasse is broken and the country is allowed to move on.

While this political jockeying has continued for more time than it ought to have, other vital areas like a steep price hike in essential commodities have continued creating further hardships for the people of this country.

The banking community is in tears as people have withdrawn their money from banks so that they are not made to pay the exorbitant withholding tax, which is a tax usually imposed in gambling dens. And now fresh taxation of Rs1600 billion has been announced for the coming budget. This does not auger well for the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

The power minister has declared that people will have to pay three times the normal rate of electricity tariff between 8am and 8pm which could be the final straw that will break the back of the PML-N government. It is time for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to wake up and address these issues as soon as possible and evolve a political consensus on the terms of reference for the Panama leaks judicial commission, and show political maturity and flexibility.