Politicians everywhere are a despicable lot. They lie and appear all things to all people. In fact, second only to the oldest profession, politicians have a pretty low standing in society. All this is well known, hence the saying about upright people that they are too honest to be in politics!
Even by such dismal standards, Pakistani politicians are in a league of their own. The country’s political landscape is dominated by an assortment of land mafia, feudal lords, and criminals. They buy their way into parliament and immediately begin plundering state resources. Parliament has become a greatly discredited and despised institution in Pakistan.
Two parties — the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz group – PML-N) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) — dominate the country’s political landscape. Between them, these two parties have ruled the country since the late-1980s barring the military interregnum of General Pervez Musharraf (1999–2009).
There is also the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) headed by the CIA and Indian agent, Altaf Husain who is ensconced in Britain. The party extorts money from big and small merchants and runs torture cells in Karachi. Then there is the Jamiatul Ulama Islam (JUI) headed by a shifty and thoroughly corrupt maulana, Fazlur Rahman. He is as slippery as an eel and can spin his ponderous bulk on a penny. He has rightly earned the epithet, “maulana diesel” for his involvement in diesel smuggling from Iran. His partner in crime was Asif Ali Zardari, a venal character, and husband of the slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. It is widely believed that Zardari had Benazir murdered in December 2007.
The people of Pakistan have reposed much hope in cricketer-turned politician, Imran Khan, whose party, Pakistan Tehrik-e Insaf (PTI) rules in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province (KPK). Unlike other politicians, Imran Khan is seen is honest and upright. Whether he would be able to deliver if he gets a chance to rule at the centre is another question.
The real political drama — or theatre — is the corruption scandal involving the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his close family. Thrice “elected” prime minister thanks to the party’s support in the most populous province Punjab, he has not been able to complete any of his terms in office. The latest scandals involve the vast fortunes Sharif and his family have made.
The family had started as petty iron merchants. They used to steal metal bolts from railway tracks, melt them in their shop, and turn them into plates or rods for sale. Their luck shined when General Zia ul-Haq picked Nawaz Sharif as his protégé and groomed him for office. Among the Sharif brothers, Nawaz was known to be the dumbest, hence his father’s decision to push him out of the family business into politics, and Zia’s to choose a non-threatening stooge.
Nawaz, however, showed his knack for corruption. His is the proverbial rags-to-riches story. He and his sons and daughters have billions of dollars worth of properties in Britain, Dubai, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Malaysia and perhaps Turkey. All this came to light in the Panama Papers. A number of court cases were lodged against Nawaz Sharif and his family and despite demands by the Supreme Court to provide proof of how such vast wealth was acquired, they failed to provide a single piece of paper. They failed to provide one single bank transaction to prove the money was legally acquired or transferred.
Because of his failure to comply with the court order, Nawaz Sharif was disqualified as prime minister last year. This is based on articles 62 and 63 of the constitution that require a person holding elected office (member of parliament or prime minister) to be honest and upright. Nawaz, his family, and ministers are anything but.
Despite his disqualification, he continues to speak at public rallies, trying to imply his innocence by demanding why he was ousted from office. He has claimed that nobody has been able to prove that he stole even Rs 50 or Rs 100 (US$1=Rs 106). This is true but disingenuous; he is guilty of stealing Rs 300 billion, not a few rupees! To suggest that the probe into his finances is a political stunt, he has publicly asked why other politicians — Zardari, for instance — have not been hauled in front of the court on similar corruption charges.
While Nawaz Sharif may be out of office and the People’s Party confined to Sindh province, the real tragedy of Pakistan’s political system is that Punjab, the largest province, contributes 60% of the National Assembly seats. And Sharif’s party, PML-N still holds sway in the province. Pakistanis may have to wait a little longer before the country’s political tragedy ends.
Zafar Bangash is Director of the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought (ICIT).