Somehow, involving all the three organs of the government- the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary- now the so-called Panama probe is by all means a crucial national issue in Pakistan. But disturbingly, this very legal issue has been turned into a contentious political affair by almost all parliamentary political parties in the country. Presently these parties are actively trying to articulate and protect their respective selfish political interests through the proposed probe commission. For this purpose, senior leaders of these political parties are also extensively holding impressive public rallies across the country.

The opposition parties look absolutely inclined to put an end to PML-N rule in the country after dislodging PM Nawaz Sharif by wisely and skilfully playing the current panama-leaks cards. On the other hand, the PML-N and its coalition partners in the parliament are also equally determined to diffuse the panama-leaks issue by minimizing the powers, and maximizing the scope of proposed inquiry commission. The instant discovery of Imran Khan’s alleged off-shore company in UK has also provided another important opportunity to PML-N propagandists to further confuse and complicate the panama-leaks issue. Reportedly, instead of probing the Panama Papers revelations, now the government also intends to witch-hunt its political opponents through NAB and FIA under the garb of nabbing the loan-defaulters.

Demanding an independent probe into the matter, PTI leaders proactively reacted when the panama-leaks controversy first surfaced last month. They also threatened to launch country-wide protests if their demands were not immediately met. However unexpectedly, the PPP also readily jumped the PTI’s anti-government bandwagon by forcefully asking the premier to step down. But strangely, the PPP somehow instantly managed to drive this bandwagon in the capacity of leading opposition party in the parliament since now the 12-member parliamentary committee has been entrusted with the task of framing the ToR’s for the proposed commission after the Supreme Court has formally rejected government’s ToRs.

The instant forceful stance taken by the PPP on Panama-leaks issue certainly raised many eyebrows in the country. In fact, owing to the general perception of rampant corruption, PPP’s last five years rule (2008-2013) has been internationally referred to as ‘kleptocracy’. During this period, a number of corruption scandals repeatedly surfaced one after the other. Therefore, it is quite perplexing how a political party, corruption being one of whose distinguished hall-marks, can become a frontrunner in a campaign for accountability in the country. Somewhat akin to Allama Iqbal’s famous couplet- Pasban Mil Gaye Kaabe Ko Sanam Khane Se- ironically ‘the Kaaba’ seems to have gotten its protectors from the temple. Certainly, this is a paradoxical situation until the mystery is eventually unfolded.

In fact, the PPP is an aspiring beneficiary of the current political status quo in the country. Certainly, it won’t seriously try to destabilize the incumbent PML-N government by dislodging the premier Nawaz Sharif in any way. Therefore, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto’s recent public diatribe against PML-N government shouldn’t be misconstrued. At the moment, it is being widely analyzed that PPP’s recent anti PLM-N political maneuvering was only aimed at bringing the PTI to the parliament after making it abandon its street protests over this issue. Now, instated of PTI alone, the 12-member parliamentary committee will call the shots as far as the ToR’s for the proposed inquiry commission are concerned. Therefore, it is very likely that the ‘lone ranger’ of PTI may again be seen protesting on the roads in future, in case the parliamentary committee fails to address PTI’s concerns about Panama probe.

While declining the governments’ request to form an inquiry commission to probe Panama Papers revelations, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has pointed out a number of flaws in the ToRs framed by the government. Firstly, identifying the proposed commission under Pakistan Commission of Inquiry Act, 1956 as simply ‘toothless’, the apex court advised the new legislation for this purpose. Secondly, it asked the government to specifically name the individuals who are to be investigated by the proposed inquiry commission. Thirdly, observing the government’s ToRs ‘wide and open’, it impliedly suggested not to unnecessarily expand the scope of proposed inquiry commission.

In fact, the constitution of 12-member parliamentary committee to frame the ‘consensus ToR’s’ for Panama-leaks inquiry commission only appears to be unnecessary and rather redundant. Since the apex court has given its opinion vis-à-vis the formation of proposed commission, therefor these ToR’s could have conveniently be framed in accordance with the guidelines provided by the august court. Besides this, in the form of General Elections-2013 Inquiry Commission Ordinance, 2015, we already have a model piece of enactment to form an independent and powerful inquiry commission in Pakistan. Therefore, now there is hardly need of extensive brainstorming sessions of parliamentary committee to frame the ToR’s for Panama prob. Last year, the PTI and PML-N have jointly framed the ToRs after signing a MOU to form inquiry commission to probe electoral rigging allegations.

Under the law of the land, a number of investigative and regulatory bodies- like NAB, FIA, SBP, FBR, and SECP- are both authorized and responsible to investigate the facts revealed by Panama Papers in Pakistan. However, presently we are only demanding a high-powered judicial inquiry commission since these agencies are not independent and competent enough to conduct an impartial and independent investigation against the premiere and his family members. Therefore, the scope of the proposed inquiry should be confined to only probe the Panama allegations against the PM Nawaz Sharif and his family members instead of asking the inquiry commission to investigate against all the hundreds of Pakistanis named in the Panama papers. Obviously, various investigative and regulatory agencies established in Pakistan can conveniently handle panama-leaks investigation against rest of Pakistanis.

The typical all-inclusive ToR’s, requiring the judicial commission to initiate a probe against all Pakistanis named in Panama Papers, would not only complicate and prolong the entire inquiry proceedings but also irk the judges of apex court, jeopardizing the very formation of the proposed inquiry commission. It should be remembered that the Judicial Commission established last year to probe electoral rigging allegations became successful in diluting rigging controversies in Pakistan after effectively accomplishing its entrusted task only because it remained focused on investigating the allegations of organized, large-scale and systemic rigging during the 2013 General Elections. We can imagine the outcome if the JC would ever had asked to look into the nitty-gritty of rigging allegation in each constituency of National and provincial assemblies across the county. Obviously a number of election tribunals duly established by the ECP handled these cases in the meanwhile.

Currently, the PML-N hawks are deliberately trying to confuse Imran Khan’s recently-discovered off-shore company with the Panama-leaks off-shore companies. But it would not be justified to equate both types of off-shore companies as they substantially differ in their nomenclature, nature and purpose of the incorporation. Technically, the very act of Imran khan to establish his offshore company in UK in 1980’s was apparently a typical case of tax avoidance instead of tax evasion, which is not a crime is strict sense. However, if Imran Khan has committed an illegal or wrongful act, the primary responsibility only lies with the UK government to take appropriate legal action against him. In this transaction, there is no anomaly or ambiguity as to the matters relating to the money trail and the source of the funds. Nor does it involve any allegation of misappropriation against IK since no public office has ever been held by him. Another positive thing is that IK readily acknowledged the fact of owing an offshore company in UK without mincing his words as soon as this matter came into the limelight.

The parliamentary committee should now diligently and efficiently frame the precise ToR’s for Panama-leaks probe commission without any further delay. In this regards, the necessary guidelines provided by the apex court must be followed. Both the ruling and opposition political parties should try to be pragmatic, realist and rational while framing and referring the ToRs to the apex court. This single issue should by no means be allowed to overshadow the entire state affairs. Obviously Pakistan cannot afford to unnecessarily prolong this matter in the face of numerous serious internal and external challenges.