Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Wiki Leaks on Panama Leaks

The word ‘Leaks’ somehow exudes an aura of something sinister or done with a specific purpose by the powers or organizations who are the global movers and shakers. World watchers believe that the doctored information – taken out of context – leaked to the international media outlets is an effective tool in targeting the opponents on the world stage that also is capable of creating a ripple effect for the unintended targets or players. The Panama Leaks have done exactly that. However while the governments and leaders around the world are scrambling to contain the fallout and trying to duck under the onslaught, another ‘leak’ – the WikiLeaks – has revealed information that the scandal over the leaked papers from the Panamanian legal firm Mossack Fonseca was orchestrated by the US Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and that the purpose was to target Russia, particularly President Vladimir Putin.  It further revealed that the project was funded by US agency for International Development and George Soros Open Society Foundation. The agency also demanded publication of the full report to unmask the truth.

Meanwhile ‘Suddeutsche Zeitung’ the German newspaper which was used to divulge the information compiled by the ICIJ, has refused to publish the remaining part of the report. Which of the Leaks are to be believed would, however, depend on what the people or political entities around the world would want to achieve through them. But for an anodyne observer the Leaks – no matter what their nomenclature may be – smack of a sinister game at the global level.

The foregoing information and developments are good enough to scuttle the credibility of the Panama Leaks and giving the report a conspiratorial hue. The Russian President is also on record to have totally rejected the revelations of Panama Leaks which he also considered a well calculated attempt by the US to malign the Russian leadership and the country. Other world leaders mentioned in the report, even those who have resigned after the revelations in conformity with the democratic traditions of their country, are also denying the veracity of the information laid bare by the Panama Leaks.

Nevertheless the leak has provided much needed ammunition to opposition parties in the countries whose leaders have been accused of owning or having interests in the off-shore companies, to have a swipe at their governments to gain political mileage without even bothering to ascertain the veracity of the information leaked to the international media or the source that sponsored it. That is what I call running after the dog to retrieve the torn-off ear. The story goes like this: a man was told by another man that a dog had chopped off his ear and run away. He asked the informant about the direction the dog had gone and started running to find him. He kept running for quite a while till he was totally exhausted and sat on the ground gasping to catch a breath. A passer-by asked what happened. The man told him he had been running to find the dog that had torn-off his ear and run away with it. The passer-by looked at the man carefully and told him that both of his ears were intact. The man immediately felt his ears, looked towards his interlocutor embarrassingly and started cursing himself for not having verified the truth before embarking on the run.

Pakistan is no exception. The opposition parties are relishing the prospect of denting the popularity of the sitting government and the credibility of the rulers – particularly the family of the Prime Minister – by exploiting the information revealed in the Leaks without verifying the authenticity of the report.  They are presupposing that the very fact that the family members of the Prime Minister own off-shore countries, it automatically meant that the money involved was accumulated and transferred outside the country through illegal means. It is interesting to note that the information dished out only mentions the individuals and entities who own off-shore companies in Panama, a known tax-haven, without even implicitly or explicitly suggesting their illegality or being ill-gotten fortunes.

The sordid aspect of the matter is that the opposition parties including PTI, PPP and JI who are in the forefront of the campaign for a probe in the revelations made by the Panama Leaks are only focusing on the Sharif family and do not talk about others who have been mentioned in the Leaks owning off-shore companies, which amounts to witch-hunting. They have reasons of their own to coalesce on the issue. PPP is under tremendous pressure in the backdrop of actions of Rangers in Karachi and the arrest of Dr. Asim and investigations against some of its stalwarts. Therefore it is trying to utilize the opportunity to put pressure on the federal government to go soft on the party. The PTI which is more belligerent in its approach towards the government is trying to re-establish its relevance to the political landscape after failure of its ‘dharna’ politics, losing the battle on the issue of rigging on all legal and administrative forums, having been routed in the cantonment and local bodies elections and almost all the by-elections to the National Assembly and more recently cropping up of differences between top leaders of the party. JI is a known spoiler. It has always sided with forces inimical to democracy and played frontal role in fomenting political turmoil in the country.

True that the integrity of the public leaders, particularly of those who are responsible for running the affairs of the country, has to be above board and that in a democratic entity opposition parties have the right to agitate, oppose the policies of the sitting government on merit and keep a check on the indiscretions of the government. But that needs to be done with honesty of purpose in conformity with the democratic norms only to promote well-being of the people. Politics of self-aggrandizement and confrontation is not the way to go about it.

The country is passing through a very critical phase of its history and can hardly afford any instability which may undermine the fight against terrorism, obstruct the economic initiatives, including the implementation of CPEC.  I am not an apologist for the sitting government but honestly feel that what the opposition parties are at it, is not going to bring any good to the country. Even if a commission is formed to probe the matter, to which the government is agreeable, nothing will come out of the scandal for the opposition because the issue has international ramifications and other countries are also involved in it. Panamanian government and the legal firm attached to the scandal are not bound to divulge all the details to a commission formed by Pakistan, risking their own credibility as a safe tax-haven.

The best course under the circumstances would be to let the bygones be bygones and to utilize this opportunity to make collective efforts to improve the system of governance, accountability and plugging the avenues of corruption and promoting a healthy corporate culture, if the political parties really want a healthy change in the country. It is noteworthy that after the revelations made by Panama leaks US, UK, EU and other countries are focusing on reforming their tax regimes and fixing the loopholes in their legal framework.

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