Dr. Haider Shah

Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance (Plato).


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COMMENT: The Panama leaks hysteria, Daily Times, 14 May, 2016

Before I sat down to write this piece, an editorial of The New York Times caught my attention as it was titled “Time to Put the Squeeze on Pakistan.” Referring to the America’s frustrating experience of fixing Afghanistan, Pakistan was accused of playing double games in the region. “It remains a duplicitous and dangerous partner for the United States and Afghanistan, despite $33 billion in American aid and repeated attempts to reset relations on a more constructive course”, laments the editorial. Referring to the continued operations of the Haqqani network the editorial contends that a military campaign against the Taliban in the tribal area was launched by the Pakistani military under American pressure, but the Haqqani networkcontinued to enjoy safety in Pakistan. The editorial blames Pakistan army of helpingintegration of the members of the Haqqani group into the Taliban leadership. The newspaper recognises the importance of Pakistan in brokering peace in Afghanistan but makes it clear that aid to Pakistan would remain linked with Pakistan’s role in peace talks.

Already our relations with Afghanistan have nosedived after some initial enthusiasm. The pacifist Ashraf Ghani has also begun accusing Pakistan of hobnobbing with the Afghan Taliban to destabilise Afghanistan. The Afghan Torkham border is feeling the heat of worsening relations as it remains shut for three consecutive days over border management issue. Though Nawaz Sharif government, as was largely expected, tried repairing Pak-India relations but events like Pathankot and RAW agent stories released by the ISPR have effectively snatched the initiative away from the office of the prime minster. Iran has also been accused by our military spokespersons of helping Indian intelligence network. Interestingly,Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Raheel Sharif met the Iranian president to complain about Iranian involvement. Two years, COAS Sharif visited the US as well and met some civilian officials. Such tasks in other countries are performed by defence and foreign ministers. Pakistan surprises everyone in many ways.

Pakistan’s relations with its former half Bangladesh have gone sour as Hasina Wajid’s government has opened guillotine centres to benefit from populist nationalist sentiment in the country. The only country in the region that Pakistan can claim to be friends with is China, which is investing about $46 billion in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor projects. But in the globalised world affairs it is a very risky business to put all your eggs in one basket, especially when most other key players in the international affairs are unhappy with you.

Pakistan is faced with dire challenges on various fronts. The country needs stability and statesmanship in order to address these challenges. But we have chosen to rock the boat in the midst of whirlpools around us. Sensation is to electronic media what water is to fish. And when it comes to Pakistani electronic media it likes to keep flogging sensational news for a long time even if the news had long expired due to incessant beating. A few years ago, it was the ‘Memogate’ story that held the media captive for months. Now there is no reprieve from the Panama leaks. No doubt, the Panama leaks story drew massive attention all over the world but the hysteria that we are gripped with is unique to us.

Asking difficult questions and keeping government on its toes is the job of the opposition. Asking the head of the government for a transparent account of the business dealings is a legitimate demand. But creating an anarchic situation is something that a democratic system that has yet to mature can hardly afford. The obsession of electronic media with issues like the Panama leaks is understandable. On the British TV channels, on average, there is only one political talk show every day. In Pakistan each channel runs a large number of talk shows every day. Capabilities are limited while demand for stuffing these shows with some content is always pressing. Consequently, if they get hold of a sensational news item then they keep milking it as it is a readymade topic that requires least amount of hard work. Day and night the same line-up of analysts comprising a few retired generals or air marshals and a few politicians can be seen discussing issues of security, economics, trade and, given a chance, even literature. One can figure out exactly what each participant is going to say in such talk shows. These days whichever channel one turns to one cannot escape the endless debates on the Panama leaks.

Once there was much furore over the Mehran bank and ISI funding case. What happened in the end? As two retired generals were found guilty no politician ever asked for implementation of the court’s judgment. I would have high regard for the leaders of opposition that are in forefront of Panama leaks campaign if they had launched a similar campaign for enforcement of Mehran bank case judgment. Digging graveyards of the bygone era can obscure the gravity of the challenges we face today. On practical grounds neither General Pervez Musharraf can be hanged for the offence of ‘high treason’, nor can we bring any money back from offshore accounts. Instead of wasting our energies on endless pursuits its better we focus on the present and the future. “Guzashta ra salat, aaenda ra ehtiat”(forgive the past, be more careful for the future) perhaps is a sensible approach for dealing with the Panama leaks issue.