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Sharif’s offshore properties link could impact Pakistan’s India policiy

  • Published at 01:49 am April 21st, 2016
Sharif’s offshore properties link could impact Pakistan’s India policiy
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif flew to London for a “cardiac check-up” on Wednesday fueling wild speculation as he faces the worst crisis of his political career. His departure followed the Panama Papers leak, which confirmed his family owns offshore companies and prime London properties. In the Panama Papers, over 200 people from Pakistan have been named as having offshore companies; this includes media organisations, businessmen, a sitting and a retired judge, and — most controversially — politicians and their relatives. Apart from the incumbent premier, relatives of two wives of Shahbaz Sharif (the chief minister of Punjab and Nawaz Sharif’s brother). The name of ex-prime minister Benazir Bhutto name has cropped up as well; she, her nephew Hasan Ali Jaffery and former interior minister Rehman Malik are said to have co-owned Petrofine FZC. The family of Osman Saifullah, a senator for the main opposition PPP, holds the record, having registered 34 offshore companies. Ironically, Osman Saifullah is currently a serving member on the tax reform commission; though of course these companies may all be legitimate, it’s no wonder people may get the impression that the cat is being asked to take care of the canary. The revelation has given a fresh handle to Sharif’s rival, Imran Khan, whose 126-day sit-in demanding the prime minister’s removal over alleged poll fraud charges had eventually fizzled out in 2014. Khan sees the leak a godsend opportunity to topple Sharif, whom he accuses of corruption, nepotism and being obsessive about infrastructure while ignoring human development. After the revelations, Sharif gave a recorded speech to the nation where he went on the offensive and claimed the family was being politically maligned over the leaks. He announced that he would set up a judicial commission — seen as the graveyard of inquiries — to clear the family’s reputation, explaining that the funds were legitimate profits from industrial successes. The opposition is refusing the idea of an investigating commission headed by a retired judge. They have said that the commission does not have the qualifications to analyse where the money has come from. Instead, the opposition is demanding a forensic audit of the money through a qualified international company. Sharif enjoys absolute parliamentary majority and is unlikely to be toppled. Even if he is forced to step down, he is most likely going to hand over the reins to some family member. The military is unlikely to step in as it enjoys levers of power without responsibility. Army chief Raheel Sharif by far outshines the prime minister in terms of popularity with the perceived success in Pakistan’s war on terror. Sharif has won over vocal and influential liberals with his reformist policies, pro-women and minority welfare schemes. The liberals are an important factor since they control the English press and are taken seriously in the west, which plays a role in making and unmaking governments in Islamabad. Even if he survives, Sharif is likely to emerge weaker. This would have a considerable impact on Pakistan’s India policy. Despite the powerful military establishment’s displeasure, Sharif has continued his conciliatory policy with Delhi in his third term. Sharif’s policy dates back to the 1990s when he first developed a rapport with Prime Minister IK Gujral. Punjabi sentimentalities bonded the two. Sharif’s bonding with Gujral coincided with the pragmatic businessman-politician’s economic liberalisation policy, which required him to build bridges with India. By the end of the decade, he gambled by inviting Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to Lahore and signing the 1999 Lahore declaration. Right before 2008 election, his party promised “to accord special priority’’ to a peaceful settlement of issues with India in its manifesto. As an opposition leader, he favoured visa-free travel for Indians and unilateral Siachen Glacier demilitarisation in May 2008. Sharif’s party went on to propose to link India with Afghanistan besides energy-rich Central Asia via the Pakistani territory five years later. The proposal was unprecedented as Pakistan sees any Indian presence in Afghanistan as destabilising. Sharif called his landslide electoral victory in 2013 a vindication of his India policy and a mandate for building bridges. Sharif’s detractors say his business interests and that of his industrialist supporters drive his India policy. They seek parity with India and do not like Sharif’s bending over backwards approach. That the Panama Papers leak has touched a raw never and confirmed the worst fears about politicians, the military establishment may have finally found a reason to further clip Sharif’s wings.
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