The famous Panama Leaks case judgment is about to be announced in Pakistan. The highest court in the country took months to hear both the accuser and the defendants.
This case is more about political victimization than a moral crime or corruption case. In a country like Pakistan, where democracy is still not strong, a case like the Panama Papers is going to damage democracy and politicians, whatever the outcome.
It all started when the ICIJ leaked information of the world’s influential people list who have, or had, offshore companies in Panama. The Pakistani Prime Minister’s daughter and son were also mentioned in the Panama Papers. Nawaz Sharif, the Prime Minister himself, was not named in the leaks, however the family members’ names were enough for the opposition party of Imran Khan to raise hue and cry over it.
Imran Khan, backed by the establishment, was given a free hand to create a narrative that the Sharifs were behind every problem of Pakistan. Billions of rupees were spent on the propaganda to malign the Sharifs and electronic media was manoeuvred masterfully. After creating the narrative against the Sharifs, the lockdown call of Pakistan’s capital by Imran Khan in November was an attack on the Sharif government to throw him out of power, the establishment clearly backing Khan at that time. However, Khan was not able to mobilize the masses and Sharif emerged as a victor.
Failure of the lock down call, and the masses’ lack of interest in agitation, appeared to be the last nail in the political coffin of Imran Khan. It almost seemed all over for him. But then again the power players, operating behind the scenes, created a space for him. All of a sudden the Supreme Court of Pakistan took matters into its own hands and decided to listen to the case on a daily basis. Interestingly, renowned lawyers like Asma Jahangir and Ali Ahmad Kurd criticized the Supreme Court for taking a highly political case. They were right, since the judiciary in Pakistan does not have a good history. From validating martial laws to convicting democratically elected Prime Ministers, it has always leant support to the establishment.
Every sane person knew right from the start that the Panama Papers case was going to be used for building a narrative against democratic forces. And it transpired exactly the same way.
In court, Imran Khan and company were not able to submit even a single piece of evidence to prove that Nawaz Sharif had been sending black money abroad. But thanks to the invisible forces, power and pressure, the Supreme Court kept listening to the case and passed the most controversial observations.
For the first time in the history of Pakistan, an ex-industrialist and sitting Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, was asked to prove that the money his ancestors earned was not black. He was asked to produce a money trail of the businesses. It is important to note that by law no citizen in Pakistan can be asked to provide receipts of a money transaction older than seven years. Neither do the accused have to prove their innocence. The onus of proving the crime rests on the accuser and investigative institutions, but contrary to that, Sharif was asked to prove his innocence and the accuser Mr Khan was given a free hand to not only strengthen his case in the court but also to manipulate it through the electronic media.
PML-N’s media wing has always been on the weaker side and it was not able to counter the narrative built by Khan and the invisible sources. Nor was their media wing successful in negating the propaganda spread through social media. It was always going to be the propaganda war and no one knows it better than Nawaz Sharif. Being a darling of the establishment in the 90s, to the anti-establishment in recent times, he knows how institutions are manipulated and how narratives are built to throw the elected governments or weaken the political parties and leaders. Nawaz Sharif may not have been successful in winning the war on the media, but he surely won it where it matters the most.
All through this period Nawaz Sharif kept his focus on his stronghold, Punjab. His frequent visits to different constituencies earned him the sympathies of his traditional voters on the ground. That is why his party has been able to win almost every single by-election in Punjab. But the fight is not over yet. The decision of the Panama Papers case is going to be announced in a few days and it is going to hurt Sharif and his daughter politically.
The court in the circumstances can neither convict Nawaz Sharif nor disqualify him, as there is no concrete evidence to prove that he was involved in corrupt practices or money laundering. But the court on the other hand will not give him a clean chit either. The decision will include some points that will give Khan political space to manoeuvre the election campaign for next year. After all, a decision that neither convicts Nawaz Sharif, nor proves him innocent, is a political victory for Khan and the establishment. He will easily continue to build the narrative that Sharif was not able to prove his innocence.
On the other hand, the political future of Sharif’s daughter is at stake. A court verdict can say that a thorough investigation is needed to check if Maryam Nawaz was a beneficiary of the offshore companies or not. Maryam Nawaz is the new face of the ruling party and she is expected to be the next Prime Minister of Pakistan, in case the ruling party wins the next general election. But her conflict with the establishment, and the famous Dawn leaks issue that created the rift between the security establishment and Nawaz Sharif, are hurdles and also one of the causes for the Panama Case hearing.
In any case, political damage has already been done as once again democracy finds itself on the weaker ground. Khan, in his greed and lust for the chair of Prime Minister, has become a pawn for the establishment. Only time will tell Mr Khan that by weakening the democratic narrative he has lost any slim chance of coming into power. For the Sharifs, winning elections again might not be a big deal. But if elections are held in relation to the Panama Papers case decision, whatever it may be, it has already strengthened the narrative against democracy.