The fallout from the Panama Papers leak from 2016 has had reverberations around the world. But perhaps nowhere will the consequences be as strong and as positive as in Pakistan.
Corruption is probably the biggest problem in Pakistan. It has been a feature of virtually all since Pakistan’s founding, both civilian and military. And it is one of the main drivers for all the other problems Pakistan is facing: from a tanking economy, a ruined infrastructure and a fractured society in which terrorism and radical ideologies thrive.
Corruption may not sound as dramatic as terrorism, but terrorism festers in dysfunctional, poorly managed societies or fringes of societies. And corruption in Pakistan has rendered the entire country dysfunctional and unjust.
Corruption is so engrained in the political and social fabric of the country that no one thought the Panama Papers scandal will have much of an effect here. Any case that might have been brought against political leaders in the country was not likely to get very far and many veteran politicians I spoke to said it would be just a waste of time.
Even if any corruption were unveiled, the thinking went that the people of Pakistan assume from the start that politicians are corrupt and will never be held to account, so there would be little public reaction if anything were found.
Imran Khan v. Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, or the Panama Papers Case, currently before the Supreme Court in Pakistan will change all that. Imran Khan, the leader of the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has rallied a huge popular force around this issue. It turns out that the people do care about corruption after all, especially when that corruption is the reason they do not have clean drinking water to give to their children.
And the verdict of the Court, which directly concerns Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family, will have profound political ramifications. Far from being just an exercise in politicking between the leaders of the two main political parties in the country, the case has the potential to reset the political culture in Pakistan.
“Whatever else one might think about Imran Khan and his politics, if he wins this case all in Pakistan will have to agree that he has done this country a great good for now and for the future.”
Consequences of corruption
Already, the case has shown that there are political costs and consequences to corruption, in a way that was not thought possible before. And if the case goes in favour of Khan, then a line will be drawn in the sand: for the first time there will be a clear signal that corruption in this country has consequences, and those who steal from the public purse to enrich themselves and their families will be the ones who will suffer those consequences.
Whatever else one might think about Imran Khan and his politics, if he wins this case all in Pakistan will have to agree that he has done this country a great good for now and for the future.
And where populism has had mixed results for his political “revolution” in the past, the Law, and the popular movement he has built behind the idea of enforcing the rule of law in this case of corruption will grant him his greatest and most valuable political victory of his career so far.
If the Supreme Court enforces the law as it is bound by duty to do, this will signal a new dawn for Pakistan – a dawn where the country has the potential to emerge out of the morass of past decades and build the future it and its people deserve. And if it does not, then the popular backlash will be brutal. And rightly so.
The first rule of good governance is that those who make decisions must be accountable for their decisions and for their conduct in public office. Pakistan has gone too long without this being the case. But now it will be.
One way or another, through the courts or on the streets, the people will hold their leaders to account. And on that foundation we can build a brighter future for our country.
Photo Courtesy: Darn, 23 June 2017
Azeem Ibrahim is Senior Fellow at the Centre for Global Policy and Adj Research Professor at the Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College. The views expressed are his own. Originally published in Al Arabiya English, on 27 July 2017.