In October of this year, authorities in South Korea questioned a friend of the South Korean President for having used her friendship with the president in obtaining donations for her nonprofit foundations. Investigations would soon reveal this friend being extremely close to the president and being privy to information regarding potential ministerial candidates and North Korea. As these details emerged, enraged South Koreans took to the streets “locking down” their capital city Seoul every weekend. On November 20 authorities charged the presidents friend with various offences. On December 9, the South Korean parliament impeached their president with the vote being 234 in favour of impeachment and 56 against. Now the South Korean Constitutional court will get to rule on this impeachment in the next 6 months. In the meantime, the Prime Minister of South Korea has assumed charge as the acting president.

In April of this year, Panama leaks happened showing details of off shore companies owned by thousands around the world that had been set up by the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. These leaks would contain the names of the children of the Prime Minister of Pakistan as well. Mysteriously, weeks before the leaks, the son of the Prime Minister started doing one on one interviews on prime time TV talk shows where he claimed ownership of foreign assets and the London apartments in particular. At the time, not too many took notice, given the sheer out-of-the-blueness of these interviews. Once the Panama papers went public, the opposition and media started agitating in Pakistan. The Prime Minister addressed the nation expressing total innocence and then went on to the floor of the house in May giving more information as to how these offshore companies were acquired. Then the Prime minister went to London for a month for medical reasons. That, along with Pakistan’s sizzling summers and the month of Ramzan took the sting out of the protestors momentum. The institutions tasked with investigating wrong doing, tax evasion, mis-declaration of assets, money laundering such as the NAB, FIA, FBR, ECP, SBP carried on doing their work without paying any attention to the Panama disclosures. The government asked the Supreme court to make a judicial commission. This the court refused given the weak laws regarding commissions. The government and opposition engaged in a futile exercise of coming up with TORs for an effective commission but got nowhere.

Finally, PTI announced a street agitation and promised to lock down the capital in November. The days leading up to this “lockdown” gave us the bizarre visuals of the government, itself locking down the capital and cutting off one province KPK from the rest of the federation. Finally, the SC intervened and agreed to hear petitions on Panama papers in an expedited manner. Suddenly the political temperature calmed and a resolution to this matter seemed nearer. That is until December 9, 2016.

December 9, 2016 the South Korean Parliament votes to impeach the President of the state for charges on her friend. Charges that are a normal, everyday occurrence in Pakistan. In Pakistan, December 9 2016 leads to the adjournment of this case till the new year with the need for reconstituting the bench given the retirement of the Chief Justice. A case which the SC itself took up and during which the questions posed by it regarding the money trail and proof of timelines for purchasing these offshore assets remained unanswered with the Prime Ministers counsel finally saying the records were unavailable as business used to be recorded on “parchis”.

This adjournment has disappointed many with many upset with the honourable court. Naturally, one wonders why the court took this case up in the first place, and secondly, with the chief justice set to retire, why constitute the bench this way? However, this entire saga of Panama papers reveals something deeper, far uglier and frankly, soul crushing. This was an opportunity for the state and society to truly alter its course and destiny. This was an opportunity for institutions to become paramount rather than individuals and families. This was an opportunity for the ruling party to become a political party in the true sense of the word. Most of all this was an opportunity for parliament to enact new legislation that would enable the NAB, FIA and FBR to do their jobs as mandated. Yet none of this happened. In fact, the ruling party took ownership of Panama and started blackmailing the opposition with counter cases and mud-slinging. As a result, eight months have gone by with Pakistan having gone back years.

Pakistan’s system won’t evolve in its current trajectory as it is a medieval system and society co-opted by a handful of families. The only calculus is about power where the concept of maintaining or deriving moral authority is irrelevant. Reform or incremental reform is not possible as loosening of the grip on power is not an option for these families. When laws are made, and designed to protect the few, to provide technicalities to get away with then justice can’t and won’t be served. When justice can’t and won’t be done then arguments for defending this system and arguments against protestors taking law into their own hands will start to hold less and less weight.

This is a tale of two countries. South Korea and Pakistan. Both starting off at the same time in rough circumstances. Both facing a constant foe in North Korea and India. Both having military coups. One becoming a great nation with a world class, dynamic economy, amongst the largest in the world and having a mature, responsive democratic polity where it took just two months for the system to resolve a conflict within. The other has party bosses constitutionally invincible, where use of immunities, stays and legal technicalities is done generously all the while cementing their grip on power and the country’s resources. Letters from Arab princes and sanctuary with them is a given when the goings get tough. People in decaying institutions come and go, these bosses stay the same, stronger and more unaccountable than ever.

Panama leaks provided us the opportunity to change course and aspire to become better. Alas it was not meant to be.