SC’s rejection of ToRs
Putting the ball back into government’s court, Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Anwar Zaheer Jamali has rejected the Terms of Reference (ToRs) submitted by the Centre for a judicial commission that would investigate the Panama leaks. Government, last month, had sent a letter to the Supreme Court (SC) registrar, requesting that the Chief Justice form a judicial commission to investigate the reports of the Panama Papers involving the prime minister and his family. The CJP has rejected the government’s plea mainly on two counts. First: “The formation of a commission under the Pakistan Commission of Inquiry Act 1956 (Act VI of 1956), looking to its limited scope will result in the constitution of a toothless commission, which will serve no useful purpose.” Second: “The ToRs are so wide and open-ended that, prima facie, it may take years together for the commission to conclude its proceedings.” The SC has stressed the compilation of a list of all individuals, families, groups, companies etc., along with some relevant particulars, against whom purported inquiry proceedings are to be held as well, as it has asked the government to do proper legislation for creating a powerful commission. The SC’s refusal has created difficulties for government, as the latter has no other option now except to bring the issue to parliament. Nonetheless, government can procrastinate the issue by application of delaying tactics, while it continues to engage the opposition in finalising the scope of an inquiry commission.
Earlier, government proposed generalised ToRs that were later rejected by the opposition parties. Opposition parties want a three-member judicial commission headed by the CJP, and is set up through an act of parliament, which should first hold an inquiry against the prime minister and his family members. The commission will be given three months, extendable to four, to complete the task. Only then, according to the opposition-drafted ToR, can it start proceedings against other Pakistanis named in the Panama Papers and will have a year to complete this task. But government rejected the draft of the ToR, indicating it was willing to sit with the opposition to come up with ToRs that were focused on eliminating corruption and did not target the prime minister personally.
By rejecting the government’s plea, the CJP has walked the fine line striking a balance between giving the Centre its due share and steering away from any controversy that could have arisen if a toothless inquiry commission would have been formed. The federal government needs to enact legislation as it had done for the commission that probed alleged rigging in the last general elections. Instead of putting the political system at stake, government needs to take the opposition into confidence and resolve the matter at the earliest. The CJP is right that ToRs sent by the government are so wide and open-ended that it would take years for the process to be completed. If the family of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is not guilty, then he should declare everything in parliament honestly and truthfully, like Prime Minister David Cameron did in the United Kingdom. No citizen — be he a low-income earning clerk in an office or the prime minister of a country — can be above the law. And that is what everyone whose name has been implicated in the Panama Papers must understand. The demand for a fair and thorough investigation is not a witch-hunt, but a normal course of action in any civilised country that respects processes of transparency and accountability.
Iran-Saudi Arabia stalemate
Iranian and Saudi authorities have failed to reach an agreement on the arrangements for Iranian pilgrims to join the annual Hajj in September following the severing of ties earlier this year. An Iranian delegation visited Saudi Arabia to strike a deal in this regard but the talks hit a deadlock, and the Iranian culture minister announced that no Iranian national will be able to perform Hajj this year. Since the deadlock, both sides have traded accusations for sabotaging the deal. The Iranian official described the attitude of Saudis as cold and inappropriate. The Saudi Hajj ministry has refused Iranian allegations by saying that the Iranian delegation declined to sign an agreement laying out conditions for this year’s pilgrimage.
The diplomatic mission of Saudi Arabia in Iran was shut down following the hanging of a high profile Shia clerk in Saudi Arabia. Angry protestors ransacked the Saudi embassy in Iran following the execution of Sheikh Al-Nimr, a prominent Shia-cleric in Sunni-led Saudi Arabia. Since the severing of diplomatic ties, all Saudi interests were being looked after by the Swiss embassy. Iran maintained that its citizens should be allowed to apply through the Swiss embassy, but the Saudi officials rejected the request. Moreover, an agreement could not be reached on the contentious issue of the security of Iranian pilgrims. Last year, 2,000 people were killed in a massive stampede, including 464 Iranians. Iran very perturbed by by the deaths of its citizens had demanded an apology from the Saudi government for its failure to protect the pilgrims.
Shia-dominated Iran and Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia have been at loggerheads over different issues over the years. After the lifting of international sanctions on Iran after it agreed to comply with nuclear safety standards, Iran is trying to re-establish its footings as a regional power. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is seeking to maintain its regional hegemony in the Middle East. Both the sides are at odds over a number of regional issues, notably in Yemen and Syria. Saudi Arabia has accused Iran of supporting Houthi rebels and both the sides have been involved in a proxy war in Yemen. Moreover, in Syria Saudi Arabia is pushing for the removal of Bashar al-Assad while Iran is backing the Assad’s government to stay. In the light of the ongoing power struggle to achieve regional hegemony, aspects like the arrangements for the pilgrims are being affected. Both the governments should devise a comprehensive strategy to avoid such circumstances in the future that affect the religious sentiments of their citizens. The pilgrimage of Hajj is the moral and religious right of all Muslims, and no regional or international disturbance or conflict should be used to deprive people of fulfilling their religious obligations. And it is imperative that no earthly reason is used to keep people away from visiting the place that they connect to their divine Creator. Be they Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, or belonging to any other faith.
Pakistan and the US: the uneasy relationship
Recently, Chairman Senate Mian Raza Rabbani gave a strong statement regarding the bilateral relationship between Pakistan and the United States while chairing a session of the Senate. He was of the view that the relation is unbalanced, and unfair towards Pakistan due to America’s tilt towards India, as the F-16 deal between Pakistan and the US remains in a limbo, one alleged reason negative role played by Indian lobbyists in Washington. Moreover, he believed that the US blatantly disrespects Pakistani courts and laws signalling towards the Raymond Davis and Shakil Afridi cases. Sartaj Aziz, Pakistan’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs, also agreed with the Senate chairman’s stance on this matter.
This perception also echoes across Pakistan’s diplomatic and defence circles that the US is allegedly playing a double role with Pakistan. On one side, it is apparently playing a positive role in the Afghan peace process and has also given Pakistan a central role in the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG). Not only this, the US is also providing necessary financial aid and investment opportunities for Pakistan, and the recent US assistance in the rescue mission of Ali Haider Gillani — the kidnapped son of former prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gillani — has been greatly appreciated in Pakistan. However, its overall role has remained lackluster in pursuing Pakistan’s legitimate security concerns on Pakistan-Afghanistan border region that is allegedly being used by Indian intelligence agencies for fomenting terrorism in Pakistan.
In addition, it also failed to protect Pakistan’s interests in the US Congress and took the Indian concerns rather more seriously. The F-16 deal was vital for countering militancy in FATA and its adjoining areas, but Senator Bob Corker of the US Foreign Relations Committee did not pay any heed to Pakistan’s concerns. Funding was also cut for financial aid to Pakistan. It is being said in some quarters of media that certain officials in the US fail to recognise Pakistan’s immense sacrifices in the War on Terror, and how Pakistan helped the US counter the threat of the former Soviet Union in the region in the in the past.
Looking back to the days of the Cold War, the relations between the two states used to be far more stable and reciprocal with Pakistani leaders and officials given utmost respect in US government circles. Pakistan also helped the US defeat the Soviet Union in Afghanistan under the Operation Cyclone in the 1980s, but the US abandoned the region in 1989. Due to this, Pakistan had to single-handedly bring stability in the region but the consequences were huge, as the aftermath of the Soviet-Afghan turned out to be detrimental for Pakistan’s internal security over the years.
Nevertheless, US inclination towards India and its ignorance on multi-faceted concerns of Pakistan have gradually brought uncertainty in the relations regardless of the improvements in the last few years. Pakistan is also to blame for this situation, as it has failed to adopt an effective strategy for cultural and public diplomacy in the US. Diplomacy is the key to an effective foreign policy, and Pakistan needs to reevaluate its policy regarding improvement of ties with the US for the short and long-term regional stability, and its own personal relationship with the US.