One-legged morality

Daily: Daily Times
Date: 20.04.16

The Panama papers have indicated that stashing money away is a global phenomenon
encompassing differences in religion, colour, race and ethnicity. Most human beings are
the same from inside. The Panama-based law firm, Mossack Fonseca, is still groping in the
dark who hacked its 11 million documents and handed them over to a German newspaper
Suddeutsche Zeitung on the condition of anonymity. Nevertheless, with the divulgement of
the papers, which is the largest financial data leak in the history, the era of squirrelling
money away, at least through offshore companies — even for right purposes — seems to
be over. There is now a possibility of recirculation of the hoarded money to strengthen both
local and global economies.

The revelations called Panama leaks also indicate that investigative journalism is ineffective
if computers are not hacked and data is not disclosed. There are pre-requisites for the
performance of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists along with its
Pakistan chapter, which has found out names of 200 Pakistanis in the (digital) papers.
Sorting out given papers to discover which paper belongs to whom is no investigative
journalism, it is sheer scavenging. Investigative journalism would have earned the credit of
performance, if it had traced money to the activities of Mossack Fonseca and the
subsequent money trail by itself.

In Pakistan, the hullabaloo over the disclosure is getting boiled down to the moral question
specific for the incumbent Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif whose children availed
themselves of the services of Mossack Fonseca and owned off-shore companies to transfer
money abroad to do business. Certain political circles led by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf
(PTI) of Imran Khan are raising the demand that the PM should resign for having lost the
moral authority to rule the country. In this demand, it is implied that the PM still retains the
legal authority to run the country. Nevertheless, the main question is this: has politics in
Pakistan matured enough to value morality?

Morality is an interesting but intriguing subject and it needs to be handled with care.
Morality is, no doubt, famous for its firepower, but it is also notorious for backfiring. When
morality boomerangs, it may branch out to take any form to hit its target. Another dimension
is that if one kind of morality is applicable retrospectively, other kinds of morality are also
applicable with hindsight. The less said, the better. Instead, legality is a better subject to be
focused on. Pakistan needs to brave legal challenges confronting its political and economic
systems. Constitutionalism is not accomplished just by introducing such clauses as the 18th
Amendment; constitutionalism is achieved by implementing the provisions of the
amendment. Nevertheless, anyone who has done anything illegal in earning and
transferring of money should be penalised. After the rule of law and constitutionalism is
established, the question of morality arises. Pakistan still needs several legally and
constitutionally mature years before it opens the chapter of governance through morality.

It is unfortunate that there are a number of Pakistanis who are not much conscious of, or
pretend not to be, of moral issues. Model Ayyan Ali was not concerned about the money
(which she claimed belonged to her) confiscated by the customs court almost a year ago;
instead, she was more concerned about the presence of her name in the Exit Control List
and planned to knock at the door of the Supreme Court to get her named removed. This is
because the money did not belong to her: no remorse for the loss of money, as she was
just a carrier. When she was on bail, in August 2015, she was invited to the Department of
Public Administration, University of Karachi, as a chief guest to inaugurate a social cause.
Neither could morality stop her from visiting the university nor morality could deter the host
from inviting her. The administration of the university sprang into action against the host
after the media aired the event.

In the ranks of the PTI, those who are obsessed with the Arab Spring and crave for its
repetition in Pakistan in the guise of the sit-ins staged by the party overlook the fact that
the Arab Spring needs victims who self-immolate, and not who merely raise slogans to
achieve their goal. Secondly, the Arab Spring took place because of people’s restlessness,
unhappiness and anger on deaths and persecution of hundreds of innocent people in their
countries, and they — protesters — were ready to do the same: die for their cause. Within
the PTI, those who give huge donations to the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital and the
Namal University, and offer their helicopters, airplanes and Land Cruisers in the service of
PTI leadership are said to be Imran Khan’s blue-eyed companions. Will the wealthy troika
that has virtually hijacked the party be ready to shed their blood for bringing about an Arab
Spring in Pakistan, even if to oust the sitting PM on the moral question? It is improbable.
The application of the selective part of the Arab Spring to serve the local purpose is
useless. Instead of putting the lives of party members and bystanders at risk, the leaders
should jeopardise their own lives and launch an Arab Spring for the benefit of posterity, as
the Arab Spring gives no guarantee that those who launch it will yield the fruit of success.

The basic question is this: why did 200 Pakistanis — most of them are persons of repute —
preferred to transfer their money to some other country? The post-1980 history of Pakistan
conveys at least two reasons: first, political instability (and constitutional weakness) owing
to military interventions; and second, anti-industrial atmosphere (ranging from the corrupt
taxation department to energy deficiency) in the country. Several industrialists have shifted
industries to Bangladesh and other Southeast Asian countries. Some have abandoned
industry and are settled in Canada. Morality alone can do nothing in such cases. Instead of
destabilising the current system, it is better to put heads together and find out a way to
construct an enabling environment so that the money that has been taken out of Pakistan
returns, and that the flight of more capital is stopped.

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