The Panama Leaks saga, in Pakistan, is soon becoming a melting-pot of competing national institutions, and their respective stakes in our polity.  What started off as an allegation of financial corruption against the Prime Minister and his family has, over the past two weeks, become an issue that threatens to spark another dharna, now directly involves the Judiciary, and has solicited unprecedented public posturing from the Khakis. And in an attempt to quell the growing public clamour and institutional pressure, the Prime Minister has finally announced his intention to ask the honourable Chief Justice of Pakistan to constitute a judicial commission for inquiry into matter. In the circumstances, everyone is asking the same questions: what will happen next?  Will the Prime Minister resign?  Will the judiciary bail out the PML(N) government (once again)?  Or has the Army had enough of the current dispensation, and wants to see a change in Islamabad?  Will this be another long drawn-out inquiry with no real gain?  Or will we see results within the incumbency of the current Khaki leadership (i.e. within the next few months)? 

These events raise a number of issues that requires closer analysis. Does the conduct and statement of Prime Minister justify a deeper investigation?  There can be little doubt (except in Daniyal Aziz’s mind, perhaps) about the fact that the statements issued by the Prime Minister’s family members – recently, as well as some years back – justify a deeper probe into the financial matters of the first family. 

Even a cursory comparison of Mr Hassan Nawaz’s interview to a foreign journalist, with recent televised statements of Mr Hussain Nawaz and Maryam Nawaz, reveals palpable and glaring inconsistencies. Now, is it possible that Hassan Nawaz was really not aware of the ownership of the building in which he lived, Maryam Nawaz was aloof to the modalities of family business (while being in control of billions of rupees of Pakistan’s public money) and that Hussain Nawaz’s statements about purchasing Park Lane apartments in 2006, through off-shore companies, is correct?  Perhaps. And is it possible that all this is happening without any involvement of knowledge of the Prime Minister? Maybe. After all, we are country that ended up believing that Iftikhar Chaudhary was unaware of Arsalan Iftikhar’s pots of gold.  

Either way, a dispassionate and transparent investigation into the matter is the least of what must be done. What can the Judicial Commission do? A Judicial Commission, as requested by the Prime Minister under the Pakistan Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1956, has express and defined mandate to look into, inter alia, the issue of Prime Minister and his family’s financial dealings in Panama based off-shore companies.

However, per the terms of reference issued by the government, the Judicial Commission has been saddled with responsibilities far more expansive than just this.  In particular, the terms of reference require the commission to inquire into “involvement of former and present office-holders of public office” in writing off of bank loans, and transfer of funds originating from kickbacks and corruption. In all, these terms of reference require half of the mandate of NAB to be carried out by the Judicial Commission (within a short time), without the commensurate infrastructure support and investigative expertise.

Regardless, assuming that the Judicial Commission somehow pulls off this herculean feat, in a transparent and lawful manner, what would be the result of its findings?  In all probability, the findings of the Judicial Commission, whatever they might be, would be no more than advisory or persuasive in nature.  For the Prime Minister to be legally removed from his public office, a court of competent jurisdiction will have to hold the Prime Minister and/or his family members guilty, in a manner that entails consequences in regards to Article 62 and 63 of the Constitution. Thereafter, for the purpose of disqualification, the matter would have to be referred to the Speaker of the National Assembly, under Article 63(2) of the Constitution. And, in case the Speaker is of the opinion that disqualification is warranted, the same would have to be referred to the Election Commission, which shall “decide” the matter as to the Prime Minister’s disqualification from the National Assembly.

The realistic possibility of this process being completed, from start to finish, within the next two years of the incumbent government’s tenure, is extremely slim. Another interesting facet of this unfolding saga is the statement from the Army Chief, along with a (purposefully timed?) dismissal of Army officials on account of corruption. What was the need for such a statement to be made at all?  And why publicly name and shame three and two-star Generals for having been removed on account of corruption (as opposed to any other disciplinary, service or administrative matter)?  Such a move by the Army cannot be seen as just a coincidence. 

There are very little coincidences in the public statements and workings of the khakis.  The entire exercise seems to be geared towards quelling the inevitable finger-pointing that the political elites will resort to, as the mantra of countering-corruption takes centre-stage in our politics.  Even in the recent past, when NAB started its operations in Punjab, the PML(N) leadership was quick to point out the corruption within NAB itself.  Each time that a judge (e.g. election tribunal) renders a judgment against the PML(N) candidate, someone like Rana Sanaullah comes onto the television to remind us all as to how corrupt the judge was.  And it was inevitable that as the anti-corruption drive for politicians found support in the khaki cadres, members of the PML(N) government would quickly point towards how Khakis should first rid corruption in their own ranks.  And this move, of removing Generals on account of corruption, is designed to preempt and counter such political rhetoric (which is al but inevitable).

The question everyone is asking now, is what will happen next?  Will the Judicial Commission fulfil its onerous task in a timely manner?  Will there be a verdict against the Prime Minister and his family?  Will the Army support such a verdict?  Will the opposition parties be able to exert enough public pressure on the incumbent government to force a change of guar in Islamabad?  Or will all this just be another exercise in futility? The truth is, no one knows for sure.  What is clear, however, is that moral responsibility in our political culture has taken a back seat to legal minutia and institutional turf-wars.  That we are a country that thrives on the drama of politics, as opposed to the essence of public service.  That what the critics of this government want to see, more than the Prime Minister’s resignation, is for him to drag this into an unending saga of talk-show fodder and breaking news tickers.  And in the end, even if the PML(N) government is able to limp through its 5 year tenure, we want there to be a trail of blood on the floor.