Much ado about Panama leaks By Ansar M Bhatti

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Analysis: Imran Khan’s U-turn or a new game plan!!

The Prime Minister and his family seemingly badly shaken by the so-called Panama leaks, appear to have partially grappled with the situation. The government spin-doctors have thwarted the opposition onslaughts on the PM and his family members, who do own some offshore companies. These wizards are trying to prove that the PM does not personally own any offshore company and that he does not have any link with the companies owned by his children. Even the International Consortium of Investigative Journalism (ICIJ) has clarified that PM Nawaz Sharif’s name was mentioned inadvertently. The Opposition, especially Imran Khan, on the other hand seem averse to giving a lifeline to the PM.
Owning and running offshore companies are not illegal per se. The only proviso being that they be established and run lawfully. The critics of the Sharifs are of the considered view that their offshore companies were established ‘wrongfully’ and that the PM’s children could not have had the financial resources at tender ages to set up these companies. A probe body may be set up in this regard sooner rather than later to try to figure out what actually happened. Till then one may only hazard a guess and assess what political ramifications this crisis may generate in the coming days.
One obvious beneficiary of the Panama leaks issue seems to be the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which had been struggling rudderless for quite some time. The biggest challenge for PTI seemed to be its unending internal crises. The differences among various leaders of PTI were not only a source of prime concern for their leader but for the PTI supporters also. An apparently fragmented and disintegrating party could take them nowhere. The sitting government was quite happy with the situation. An imploding and disjointed party would not be able to put up any significant challenge in the coming general elections. However, the issue of Panama leaks appears to have dampened hopes of the ruling party as the issue has served as a unifying factor, not only for the PTI but also for the rest of the opposition. PTI leadership rightly decided to shelve the idea of damaging intra-party elections.
Almost cut to size, the Pakistan People’s Party too appears to have gained some strength from Panama leaks issue. Its top leadership though seems unlikely to vigorously push the sitting government. Hawks within the party like Aitzaz Ahsan who have diametrically opposite view may not be able to convince the party leadership to change its stand. Bilawal Bhutto has demanded that the PM step down, more likely for political consumption. Accordingly the ruling elite seem unfazed.
All said and done, the opposition parties seem convinced of being able to give the government tough time and eventually force it to call for early elections – an idea which may also be supported by the military establishment. People’s Party for sure shall not side with the opposition when it comes to toppling of the government or even holding of early elections. There are various reasons for this but the key reason happens to be PPP’s image problem both at home and abroad. It simply needs more time for the masses to forget its unenviable record of governance.
PTI, Jamat-e-Islami and the newly-formed Pak Sarzameen Party have some commonalities to join hands. But whether these are enough for them to come closer is a moot point. Whether one may like it or not, the Pakistan Awami Tehreek led by Dr. Tahirul Qadri has an interesting nuisance value. It may indeed spoil or even steal the show if asked to jump into fray.
The government on the contrary has the capacity to forestall these and other challenges effectively because of the power of incumbency. One way of doing this is to extend maximum relief to people, who have been hit hard by the perpetual price hikes, load shedding, lack of social and effective justice system, nepotism, cronyism and other social evils ad nauseam. The people of Pakistan have a very short memory span. The government should consider announcing some dramatic short term as well as long term welfare measures for the people. If that is done in earnest they would happily forget what Panama leaks were all about!!