Who wins the Panama Case?

Source:  Tribune Published in Current Affairs on Saturday, March 18, 2017

Multiple theories are taking rounds predicting as to what is going to be the likely decision on Panama Leaks case, and whose political career is about to end. Truth be told, it is almost impossible to predict anything on Pakistan’s politics. It isn’t because of the turbulent nature of politics in the country but mostly because of the opaqueness and under-the-cover dealings of our political establishment.

What one can, however, predict is that such high-profile cases typically receive carefully neutral and vague decision allowing both sides to save face, declare victory and get back to the politics as usual. Panama Leaks case is likely going to see the same result. Neither is it going to be earth shattering, nor decisive.

For one, any decision by the Supreme Court is unlikely to remove the Prime Minister (PM) or have any major impact on his politics since he is not directly involved in the case. But with the stakes so high, the judges are likely going to extend some level of punishment to the children of PM Sharif for ‘negligence’ and perhaps ‘malpractice’.

For Imran Khan, any decision against any member of the Sharif family will be a huge victory, and will have the PTI social media army go on overdrive. The PTI will be able to breathe once more for the next elections or till the next scandal — something that it desperately needs at the moment to even retain K-P in the 2018 elections.

The PML-N camp will also be jubilant, whatever the decision may be, even if Maryam Nawaz is reprimanded by the courts. With the Sharif family putting its entire financial history out in the public in courts, the fact that the sitting PM held himself accountable to the Pakistani courts will clean away Nawaz Sharif’s slate, end talks of his ‘family corruption’ once and for all, give him more strength, and his followers more reason to vote for him in 2018.

For Maryam Nawaz, any decision is going to be a victory. If the court gives her a clean chit, she wins and that’s that. In case if the court reprimands her, what better way to start the political career than being a political martyr and coming out as a true leader who had her life on trial.

Hence, in the short term, any decision on Panama Leaks is unlikely going to have any clear winners and will probably strengthen the status quo. But here is a thing: there is no short term in politics. Decisions, and games are all played for the long run. While the PML-N is in a defensive mode mostly firefighting, since the PM has a lot to lose, Imran Khan on the other hand is counting on time and his stars.

Khan, by now, obviously understands that he can’t defeat the PML-N through free and fair elections, not in 2018 at least. But locking down the top boss, Nawaz Sharif into controversies will eventually get him what he wants. For PM Sharif, getting out clean from every scandal may be a win worth to celebrate in the short run, but scandal after scandal, he may lose his cards to play the long game.

In chess, for instance, feeding the opponent with minor kills to lure and check-mate eventually is the oldest strategy in the book. Put that in the context, first, the Election Rigging controversy, now the Panama Scandal, Khans’ modus operandi to becoming the PM is not by defeating the PML-N as a political party, but by defeating the person Nawaz Sharif with which the House Sharif and the PML-N will also fall.

So whatever the decision on Panama Leaks case may be, in the short run, no political careers are expected to end and with no immediate consequences. In the long run, however, nothing really lasts forever — in this case it’s between House Sharif vs Imran’s age. Only time will tell.

By Hussain Nadim

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