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November 2, 2016

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Imran celebrates reaching where he started from

ISLAMABAD: Imran Khan today celebrates Thanksgiving Day for going the extra mile to achieve what has already been on offer for the last six months: a judicial commission.

The only hurdle in the way of its formation was consensus on the Terms of References that the government and the opposition failed to evolve. They will resume efforts; this time under the supervision of Supreme Court.

End result of the so-called ‘million march’ is not different from Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s dharna in 2014. In both cases, Imran Khan chose to settle on what he was offered well before he started the agitation movements. 

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had promised a judicial commission to probe the election rigging well before PTI kick-started its march from Lahore in August 2014.  It however took PTI as many as 126 days of dharna and spending of unaccounted millions to agree on this commission but returned empty-handed after it failed to produce rigging related evidences before the Chief Justice-led judicial commission. 

The offer was also not different on Panama Papers issue but the government and opposition couldn’t explore consensus on the Terms of References (ToRs) of the inquiry commission. As Supreme Court of Pakistan has taken up the case, it is going to start from where the deadlock had occurred on ToRs, hence PTI’s supposed pressure failed to achieve anything. 

Again, the government and petitioners (all from opposition) will submit their ToRs before the SC bench for consideration. Once finalised, a judicial commission will be set up that could have also been constituted in May had there been a consensus on ToRs.

Timeline of the developments following the release of Panama Papers indicates that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif offered the formation of judicial commission in his televised address on April 5, two- day after his family was named in connection with the offshore companies. An official committee devised Terms of References which were rejected by the opposition.

Another offer came from PM during his speech in the national assembly on April 22. He announced writing to Chief Justice of Pakistan for setting up a commission headed by a serving judge. This offer was different from the previous one wherein a retired judge was to lead the inquiry.

Chief Justice Anwar Jamali on May 13 refused notifying the commission unless the government and opposition arrive at a consensus on ToRs which became a contentious issue.  While opposition wanted to focus on Nawaz Sharif family and insisted on restricting the scope of inquiry to those named in Panama Papers, the government was for broadening the scope in order to call everybody into question whose offshore company has been unearthed. 

This coincided with a new development: Imran Khan who was spearheading the campaign against the government was also caught red-handed.  The offshore company he has owned since 1983 was never made public, only to be uncovered by Ahmed Noorani of The News. Likewise, Jehangir Tareen’s children own offshore company, it didn’t figure in Panama Papers though. 

As the negotiations lingered on the questions of ToRs, they ended inconclusive on July 19 when the opposition said it would no more hold discussions on this issue.  Exactly two months before the deadlock was pronounced, Imran hurled threat of launching a movement against the government on this issue during his speech in the national assembly.

While negotiations couldn’t resume on ToRs, PTI geared up agitation against the government. Rally in Raiwind was the most significant among those staged by the party at different places. Lockdown of Islamabad through million march was also announced there, panicking the government. The idea didn’t go well public at large as well.

Taking cue from dharna experience, the government was mindful of its implications and this evolved a strategy to preempt through arrests and road blockade to discourage from other cities.  Islamabad High Court’s decision directing PTI to restrict its assembly in parade ground provided much-needed relief to the government.

Although the government had to wait for 126 days to see the red zone vacated cleared by PTI, it used that experience to preempt entry this time. Meanwhile, PTI repeated the same mistakes it did in 2014: putting to use time, money and manpower without gaining anything.

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