The Panama Papers saga in Pakistan essentially signifies some dark and deplorable aspects of both our state as well as society. It is really worrisome that hundreds of individuals, including the members of ruling political family, have allegedly siphoned off the extensive monetary resources of the poor nation by setting up numerous shell companies and off-shore accounts with apparent impunity. However, the governmental and societal response to this mega scandal is even more appalling, and rather regrettable. As a matter of fact, now corruption is no more a major issue in the country. And accountability seems to be simply nobody’s cup of tea.

The Panama Papers scandal has explicitly exposed the miserable state of our entire accountability regime in the country. Presently we hardly have any independent accountability, investigative or regulatory body to efficiently and impartially probe any mega scandal in Pakistan. This is the reason we always look towards superior judiciary when it comes to probe any high-profile case. Almost half a year has elapsed since this scandal first surfaced in April this year, but regrettably, no state institution has yet bothered to take any serious notice of it. Nor a single Pakistani named in Panama papers has been nabbed or interrogated by any state agency in Pakistan so far.

One of the most agonising aspects of the current Panama Papers episode is the fact that our populace has thoroughly become desensitised towards the issue of corruption in the country. Therefore, now the corruption is somehow a relatively acceptable norm in the society. This is why we haven’t witnessed any significant mass protest or agitation in Pakistan over this scandal so far. Apart from PTI-led rallies, no section of the society has independently tried to hold protests and rallies to compel the government to take appropriate action against the individuals named in the Panama Papers. We have earlier observed that the Prime Minister of Iceland had to step down as soon as thousands of angry Icelanders took to the street against the government following the Panama Papers revelations some months ago. Obviously Pakistanis’ apathy and indifference towards their political system is extremely deplorable.

The incumbent PML-N government has been dilly-dallying over forming the independent probe commission for the last six months. It has tried its best to sweep this issue under the carpet in one way or the other. It has been equally determined to complicate and confuse this issue by maximising the scope, and minimising the powers of proposed inquiry commission. It hurriedly farmed the TORs and referred the same to the Supreme Court of Pakistan without consulting the opposition parties. Consequently, the Apex Court rejected these TORs forthwith.

The 12-member parliamentary committee has yet not succeeded in framing the consensus TORs for the intended judicial inquiry commission. Despite the fact that Prime Minister has publicly offered himself for accountability vis-a-vis Panama-leaks issue, the ruling party looks in no serious mood of forming any meaningful and effective probe commission to scrutinize off-shore accounts allegedly owned by PM’s family members.

A few days ago, the federal cabinet has also approved a draft legislation to constitute a ‘powerful and independent’ judicial inquiry commission by replacing Pakistan Commission of Inquiry Act, 1956 with another new enactment. However, this appears to be another treacherous move on the part of government as the proposed new Inquiry Act is based on the undisputed TORs regarding the powers and functions of inquiry commission. It hardly addresses the fundamental point of difference between the government and the opposition relating to the scope of proposed inquiry commission i.e. what individuals should be probed by the inquiry commission. Obviously the government is desirous of forming a free-for-all inquiry commission by requiring it to probe against all Pakistanis named in Panama papers as well as bank loan defaulters, thereby transforming this inquiry commission into a hotchpotch of diverse and unending inquiries.

Since the government and the opposition parties have yet not finalised the nitty-gritty of the proposed commission, therefore the PTI also resorted to other legal remedies to get the Panama-leaks scandal resolved. However, no legal forum has addressed PTI’s grievances so far. As expected, the Supreme Curt of Pakistan has rejected a petition moved by PTI at the initial stage on certain flimsy legal grounds. The Speaker National Assembly has also rejected a reference against PM Nawaz Sharif submitted by PTI in the wake of Panama Papers revelations. But strangely, the Speaker has chosen to forward a disqualification reference against PTI chairman Imran Khan to the ECP. PTI’s earlier reference submitted in the ECP for PM disqualification has also failed to yield any fruitful result. Similarly, aimed at requiring the premier bodies like NAB, FBR, FIA and SECP to actively look into Panama-leaks issue, the recent initiative taken by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has also utterly failed on account of uncooperative and non-serious attitude exhibited by the heads of these bodies.

The political deadlock between the ruling and the opposition political parties over the issue of Panama-leaks probe is now clearly heading towards a sort of full-fledged political confrontation. Having exhausted the ‘legal and pacific’ means to get the Panama Papers revelations probed, PTI has launched a massive agitational movement against the incumbent government. Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), led by Allama Tahir-ul-Qadri, has also launched the Qisas movement against the ruling party to seek justice for the martyrs and victims of tragic 2014 Model Town incident in Lahore. The political tension has further escalated as the PTI has announced that it will stage a sit-in in front of PM’s private residence in Lahore this month.

The Panama-leaks probe issue has become a difficult political riddle owing to high-political stakes involved on both sides. However, this puzzle can be solved by framing TORs for proposed inquiry commission in line with guidelines provided by the Apex Court after refraining to unnecessarily extending the scope of the intended inquiry. The Supreme Court of Pakistan is not supposed to probe against the loan-defaulters as well as all Pakistanis named in Panama Papers. Obviously this task should be performed by a number of investigative and accountability agencies established in the country for similar purpose. We are only demanding a high-powered judicial commission as these agencies are not competent and independent enough to probe against the chief executive of the country.

At these defining moments, the political parties should exhibit political maturity and sagaciousness. They should sit together to diligently finalise some pragmatic and just TORs for the proposed inquiry commission without any unnecessary delay. They shouldn’t treat the Panama-leaks issue as an instrument to articulate their narrow political interests. They should also keep in mind that the so-called Third Umpire would find a justification to intervene and decide this question unilaterally once the ‘on-field umpires’ fail to properly perform their entrusted task.

The writer is a lawyer and columnist  based in Lahore.

mohsinraza.malik@ymail.com

@MohsinRazaMalik