The contentious issue of the so-called Panama probe in the country is clearly heading towards a political deadlock as both the government and the opposition political parties apparently are in no mood of showing any flexibility in their respective stances vis-à-vis the nitty-gritty of the proposed probe commission. Both sides have agreed on forming an inquiry commission under the supervision of the CJ of Supreme Court of Pakistan. However, they have yet not succeeded in jointly determining the legal framework and parameters of the proposed commission. The government insists on conducting the inquiry under Pakistan Commission of Inquiry Act, 1956. On the other hand, the opposition parties are desirous of forming an independent probe commission through a special law, probably the Presidential Ordinance, in accordance with ToRs- jointly framed by them. Presently, over this single issue, both sides are also extensively trying to mobilize their respective political support base across the country.

The current Panama Papers scam has badly exposed the miserable state of our regulatory and investigative agencies- the NAB, FIA, FBR, SBP, SECP- which obviously aren’t competent and independent enough to properly look into this matter. Almost a month has lapsed since the issue first came to limelight, yet no state institution has bothered to probe the allegations against any single individual in Pakistan leveled by the Panama Papers. At the same time, this incident also reflects the deteriorating state of our national resolve to actively combat corruption in the country. Therefore, the popular slogans like ‘zero-tolerance against corruption’ and ‘across- the-board accountability’ now look nothing beyond an insignificant and rather irrelevant political cliché.

The current Panama-leaks controversy in the world isn’t all about owning an offshore company, but rather owning an offshore company associated with the Mossack Fonseca-a Panamanian law firm and corporate service provider best known for facilitating individuals worldwide to establish shell companies. These companies are all meant for money laundering and tax non-compliance-tax evasion, and tax avoidance. Most of these companies were registered in the British Overseas Territory, namely the British Virgin Islands. In fact, these territories are well-known tax havens in the world. Mossack Fonseca has been offering its clients a variety of corporate services, helping them conveniently and secretly hiding their ill-gotten money from the public scrutiny-eventually finding some legal and safer destinations for these funds. Therefore, the Mossack Fonseca has actively been contributing to the international black economy for a long time.

It is quite perplexing why the teenage children of the incumbent PM of Pakistan chose to become the clients of the notorious law firm, establish shady off-shore companies in 1990’s, and later purchase different properties in London through them. Why did they use their alleged shell companies, like Nescoll Limited and Nielson Holding Limited, to purchase expensive properties in London instead of transferring their ‘hard-earned’ money through normal legal channels. Apart from explaining the matters like the source of income or money trail, these facts per se would land them in grave trouble in future, even if their father manages to save himself after a legal probe in Pakistan.

The PTI has demanded the formation of a high-powered independent judicial inquiry commission through a Presidential Ordinance instead of probing this matter under Pakistan commission of Inquiry Act, 1956. In fact, PTI’s current stance towards the form and function of the proposed inquiry commission is rather reasonable and pragmatic. Obviously, due to some inherent shortcomings, the Act VI of 1956 doesn’t adequately empower an inquiry commission to thoroughly probe, and conclusively determine any complex question in issue.

In my previous column, I, too, made a suggestion about forming an independent judicial inquiry commission essentially in line with the General Elections-2013 Inquiry Commission to dilute the controversies generated by the recent Panama Paper revelations. This commission was formed through General Elections-2013 Inquiry Commission Ordinance, 2015. Under the said Ordinance, the Judicial Commission was invested with all the powers of a criminal as well as a civil court. All political parties were allowed to appear and submit evidence before the JC. Similarly, this JC was also empowered to form one or more special investigation teams comprising officers from the relevant executive authorities. This JC went a long way in ending the post-electoral controversies in Pakistan. Therefore, the government should now form a similar inquiry commission after finalizing its ToRs in consultation with the opposition to dilute the typical Panama-related controversies in Pakistan for good.

The ToRs recently framed by the government necessarily require the apex court to probe allegations against all the Pakistanis named in Panama Papers. In fact, the Panama Papers reveals the name of some more than 200 individuals in Pakistan, and reportedly, more similar revelations are just in the pipeline. Certainly, simultaneously probing such a large number of cases will be a cumbersome and time-consuming exercise. It would not be appropriate to ask the apex court judges to thoroughly look into the factual detail of each Panama-leaks case. An open-ended and lengthy probe will also adversely affect their constitutionally-entrusted task of adjudication to the much disadvantage of numerous litigants. Therefore, for similar reasons, the apex court judges may also refuse to become a part of the proposed inquiry commission.

The proposed inquiry commission shouldn’t deliberately be transformed into a hotchpotch of inquiries of diverse nature by extending its scope to all Pakistanis named in the Panama Papers. In fact, probing a similar allegation against any individual is the very responsibility of various regulatory and investigative agencies, legally established in the country for the same purpose. It shouldn’t be forgotten that presently we are only demanding an inquiry commission to probe the allegations against the PM and his family since these agencies lack the independence, impartiality and courage, required to probe a case against the chief executive of the country. Therefore, Instated of asking the apex court to probe all Panama-related allegations, the government can preferably constitute various JIT’s, comprising investigators from relevant government agencies, in the same manner as the ‘multi-agency group’ in India is probing against more than 500 Indians whose names are included in Fonseca’s list of off-shore companies.

The government must wisely comprehend the gravity and sensitivity of the post Panama-leaks political perspective in the country. Major opposition parties are unanimously demanding an independent and meaningful probe into the Panama paper allegations. The PTI has started holding public rallies against the ruling political party over this issue across the country. It has also threatened to launch a massive movement against the government, including staging a sit-in at the Raiwand residence of PM Nawaz Sharif. Now the opposition parties have also started asking the PM to step down.

Absolutely desirous of uprooting the menace of corruption through ‘across-the-board accountability’, the COAS General Raheel Sharif has also hinted at ‘supporting the meaningful efforts’ to ‘secure the better future for the next generations’. The recent instant dismissal of a number of high-ranking military officers is also being viewed in this context. Therefore, the strong signal sent by the most powerful institution in the country should by no means be ignored. Obviously the civilian leadership cannot underplay the current Panama Papers scam by readily sweeping this matter under the carpet. The government must take this bull by the horns. It should act before the current political deadlock over this issue turns into a full-fledged political confrontation, posing an existential threat to the ever-fragile democratic institutions in Pakistan.