The roar of the paper tigers by Ayaz Amir

The roar of the paper tigers…

Ayaz Amir

Pakistan’s fearsome paper tigers are caught in two traps: Dawn leaks and the Panama Papers. Unable to get out of them they seem to have decided that attack is the best form of defence. Pursuant to this conclusion the jungle of Pakistani politics is ringing with the sound of their deafening roars.

The papers tigers have also put on special spectacles which produce the miraculous effect of making the jalsas of their opponents—principally Imran Khan—look to them like ‘jalsies’ and their own relatively modest shows of force held within shamianas look like mighty jalsas. 

The chief lion, Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, has been at a loss to come up with the right answers to the Dawn leaks. He was first compelled to make a sacrificial offering of one of his favourites, former information minister Pervaiz Rashid, who remains close to the prime minister but, alas, is no more in the cabinet. Sooner or later Pakistani information ministers fall in love with their voices and for Pervaiz Rashid to be deprived of the heady pleasure of seeing himself constantly on television is no doubt a heavy loss to bear. Still, the iron law of necessity prevails over other considerations. 

My friend Tariq Fatemi was the very model of loyalty, indeed loyal above and beyond the call of duty. But because of the Dawn affair he too has been cast to the winds. He is protesting his innocence—this in his farewell letter to the Foreign Office—but what good does this do him now?

Rao Tehsin, the former Principal Information Officer, has also been made a scapegoat for no better reason than that he is easily dispensable, although most people in the news business are aware that he had nothing to do with the Dawn leak.

This is turning into something like Watergate, lesser fry like Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Dean and a host of others sacrificed but President Nixon denying all culpability. The Furies eventually caught up with him but many lives were ruined. 
Even as they roar the paper tigers are playing the same game. They want the nation to believe they are real lions and not of the circus variety but such is their moral courage that instead of taking the blame for this fiasco on their own shoulders they have put others—like the hapless Fatemi and Tehsin—in the firing line.

There is a reason for this course of action: the Princess Royal, reputedly the chosen heir to the Heavy Mandate, must be protected at all costs. Remember Memogate? It was pure fiction, a concoction which had nothing to do with national security. It was just an attempt to cut the Zardari government down to size. Dawn Leaks by contrast is all too real. At the height of the anti-Indian agitation in Occupied Kashmir it spoke India’s language and in so many words held the Pakistan army responsible for ‘jihadi’ policies and the country’s consequent ‘diplomatic isolation’. Self-incrimination and tarring the army with the brush of cross-border terrorism cannot go further than this.

At the time of Memogate Nawaz Sharif arrived at the Supreme Court in a black coat to read his indictment against the PPP government. As the Dawn leak saga unfolds what colour of coat would he like to put on now?

How did the Princess Royal get off the hook? The story going the rounds of course is that this concession, made right at the beginning when this affair exploded, came from him who reportedly wanted to be made field marshal. Someone does you a favour, in this case sparing the Princess Royal, and you return the favour by spreading stories of his field marshal ambitions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All the same, Dawn Leaks and the Panama Papers are taking their toll. The more the paper tigers feel squeezed the more they roar. The chief lion calls his opponents a hundred jackals although if we look at the moral courage on display in both the Dawn leaks and the Panama Papers it becomes a bit difficult to make out who the lions are and who the jackals.

And what should we make of the Princess Royal losing her cool and attacking journalists, going so far as to imply that those associated with the outing of the leaks, like the journalist Umar Cheema, were guilty of conspiring against Pakistan. This is interesting, for it amounts to saying that the Sharifs and Pakistan are one, and that attacking the one is to attack the other. Louis Fourteenth said he was the state. Madam Maryam Safdar is saying the same thing. Iqbal and Jinnah, turn over in your graves.

But the screws are tightening. If the first action of the three-member Supreme Court constituted to supervise the Panama JIT (Joint Investigation Team) is any indication the Sharifs are in for a long, hot summer. The bench rejected the names sent for inclusion in the team by the State Bank and the Securities and Exchange Commission and asked for a list of fresh names. The beleaguered first family would not be amused.

One thing we can be sure of: the ISI and Military Intelligence representatives on the JIT will be extra vigilant. Gone are the days when the army and ISI acted as godfathers to the Sharifs and lifted them to power and prominence. In today’s different climate marked by the vast gulf of distrust and misgivings between the two sides, the Sharifs can expect no easy ride from that quarter.

But what are paper tigers up to, what does their roaring signify? From the tone of Nawaz Sharif’s recent speeches, and also from the roaring of smaller stuffed lions like Nisar Ali Khan, it almost seems as if they are trying to provoke a reaction. Not having answers to Dawn Leaks and the Panama Papers are they moved by the thought that it would be best to go down again as political martyrs?

It would be folly to lend them a helping hand in this. Zardari stewed in his juice and that is how the PPP was undone. Had his term been cut short by Memogate he too would have raised the banner of martyrdom. The Sharifs now are stewing in their juice. This is the work of no human agency. Dawn Leaks was no army conspiracy. Panama Papers was no handiwork of the ISI. In the predicament of the Sharifs we can see impersonal forces at work, the faint rustle of the wings of history as the past catches up with the present.

So let the stuffed lions roar. Let their minions roar, although personally I am not a little intrigued that the likes of the ever-amusing Talal Chaudry and Danial Aziz have mostly gone silent. Pakistan is caught in a bigger drama and when things happen on this scale and with such intensity, one misstep following another, it would be very surprising if the various events we are seeing don’t come together and roll to a resounding climax.

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