Is Panama gate a foreign conspiracy to derail Pakistan?
Asif Haroon Raja
After splitting Pakistan into two in 1971 under an international conspiracy, Pakistan was once again marked as a target by Indo-US-Afghan-UK-Israeli nexus after 9/11. It is the only country in the world which is simultaneously subjected to three dangerous doctrines – namely India’s Cold Start doctrine, America’s Af-Pak doctrine and 4th generation warfare which aims at spoiling civil-military relations, creating distrust between the public and the Army, creating friction among the State institutions, weakening the federal government, fanning provincialism, ethnicity and sectarianism, accentuating political polarization, and spreading gloom.
Media is bought and used to spread rumors, misgivings, uncertainty, widen societal cleavages, and to foment political instability and anarchy. Obama had stated that the US will spend $50 million annually on Pak media. Out of $ 7.5 billion Kerry Lugar Bill signed in 2009, $1.2 billion was for Pak media. India has gained considerable influence over several TV channels in Pakistan. The whole nation is in the grip of 4th generation hybrid war which is basically a disinformation war. This war cannot be countered by the Army since it lacks requisite capability.
The reasons why Pakistan is a target and has been repeatedly subjected to conspiracies is that it is a Muslim country, it is a nuclear power, it has talent, hardworking manpower and plentiful resources, its people are resilient and Pak Army is the most battle hardened Army in the world. Above all, CPEC has all the potential to remove the socio-economic fault lines of Pakistan and make it economically prosperous. The incumbent government in power which is being grilled by the Supreme Court Bench (SCB) on account of Panama gate has stated that it is being derailed under a well-planned conspiracy.
Pakistan Army is guarding the eastern border from where five-time superior India duly aided by USA, Israel and the West poses the main threat. It guards the 2600 km long western border because of cross border terrorism in Afghanistan under the patronage of RAW-NDS nexus backed by CIA. It keeps a watchful eye on its border in the southwest with Iran with whom the relations are far from satisfactory. 180,000 security forces are deployed in the northwest while the whole of paramilitary forces led by Frontier Corps are fighting the insurgents in Baluchistan. Sindh Rangers are dealing with urban terrorism in Sindh. Operation Raddul Fasaad which started in February 2017 is a countrywide operation focused against terrorists, facilitators, handlers, financiers and sleeping cells.
China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor (CPEC) is the pivot of China’s One Belt-One-Road (OBOR) project. It is the only project out of the six planned corridors upon which work is going on with full steam and it has made rapid progress in less than two years. Its full development and operationalization will have far reaching prospects of progression for China and Pakistan in particular and the region in general. Apart from assured economic prosperity, CPEC is a harbinger of peace and connectivity of the volatile and under developed South Asia where majority are grinding in poverty. It aims at sharing the fruits of prosperity with Central Asia, Middle East (ME) and Africa as well as Europe.
Pakistan is the hub centre of CPEC and Gwadar deep seaport is its pivot. It has already become such a strong magnet that quite many Central Asian Republics, Russia, South Asian, ME and African countries as well as some European countries are getting attracted to it and are evincing keen interest to invest and become trading partners. This magnetism of CPEC has put the sinister plan of India to encircle and isolate Pakistan in great jeopardy. This plan has further been jolted after Pakistan joined the Saudi led 41-member Islamic Alliance led by Gen Raheel Sharif. The moles of foreign powers inside Pakistan particularly in media and political parties have been trying hard to make CPEC as well as Gen Raheel controversial.
Taking into account China’s heavy financial stakes ($56 billion so far) and global ambitions to become leading economic power through its OBOR policy of which CPEC is the watershed, it can be assumed that Pakistan and China security concerns have become common. China will come to the rescue of Pakistan whenever militarily threatened by India and even by USA.
For USA, China is its arch economic rival and it has been striving hard to undermine it. CPEC has morphed into biggest geo-economic and geo-strategic threat for USA since it not only strengthens Pakistan, but also breaks its plan to encircle and contain China’s economic resurgence by ringing around South China Sea with the help of Australia, Japan and India.
The US is feverishly providing sophisticated arms, equipment and technology to India to make it a bulwark against China, not realizing that 80% of India’s strike formations are poised against Pakistan. On July 14, the US House of Representatives passed a $621.5 billion defence policy bill and proposed advancing defence cooperation with India.
Commissioning of CPEC and Gwadar Port will free China from the compulsion of using the route via the US dominated Malacca Strait which is very long and vulnerable to interdiction by India. China will now be able to transport its goods to foreign markets through shortest and cheapest route via Gwadar. CPEC has been laced with three Highways and soon railway network will be added to speed up two-way trade. Pakistan is providing security to the corridor which it rightly terms as a game-changer and has deployed a special security division headed by a Maj General.
Besides the US and India’s concerns, Iran and Dubai view CPEC cynically since Gwadar will outshine Chabahar, Bandar Abbas and Dubai seaports and impact their trade. Afghanistan under the tutelage of USA and India is also unhappy since CPEC tends to enhance the dependence of Afghanistan on Pakistan. It therefore signed an economic agreement with Iran and India in 2016 to upgrade Chahbahar Port which is planned to be linked with road and rail networks built by India inside Afghanistan.
The Indo-US-Israeli nexus never accepted the reality of Pakistan becoming the 7th nuclear power in 1998, and has been conspiring to disable it. When Gen Musharraf signed an agreement with China in 2003 to develop Gwadar into a commercial seaport, alarm bells started to ring in Washington, Tel Aviv and New Delhi. With eyes on Gwadar, Baluchistan was shoved into the cauldron of insurgency the same year. Lt Col Ralph Peters map published in 2006 showed Baluchistan as an independent state. Major objectives of covert war against Pakistan were to disable its nuclear program, scare away the Chinese engaged in developing Gwadar, secularize the country and make it a client state of India or else Balkanize it.
The trio joined by Afghanistan and aided by Britain are feeling upset that its highly expensive covert war has failed to destabilize Pakistan, sink its economy, and extract its nuclear teeth and to scuttle CPEC. They have been making use of Afghanistan as the major base of operation with Iran as an auxiliary base for abetting, funding, equipping and launching proxies since 2003/04. The focus has been on FATA, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Baluchistan and Karachi. Clandestine operations have been supplemented with drone war, media war and coercive tactics.
The PPP-MQM-ANP dream team carved out by USA and UK in March 2008 with the help of infamous NRO was handed over power. It was mandated to:
A. Open nuclear sites for IAEA/US inspections, roll back nuclear program. (This mission had been assigned to Benazir in 1988 and in 1994 also when DG FIA Asghar and Rahman Malik as his assistant had reportedly provided information on Kahuta).
B. Put ISI under Rahman Malik led Interior Ministry. (This was again an old task to civilianize ISI, based on which Gen Hamid Gul was removed and retired Gen Kalue brought in as DG ISI, and in PPP’s second stint, reforms were undertaken within ISI by an Air Marshal to cut its long arm).
C. Promote/post senior officers of armed forces after getting clearance from Washington.
D. Allow NATO forces to intrude into FATA and carryout hot pursuit operations.
E. Accept India’s formula of making the LoC as permanent border and accept India’s hegemony in the region.
Zardari, Yusaf Gilani and his successor Raja Ashraf, Hussain Haqqani, Wajid Shams and Rahman Malik were to play key roles in the fulfilment of the agenda during the 5-year tenure. They couldn’t cross the Red Lines because of extraordinary vigilance and steadfastness of the Army under Gen Ashfaq Kayani and ISI under Lt Gen Shuja Pasha as well as MI Dte. Earlier on, Gen Musharraf had also refused the offer of joint control of nuclear sites or rolling back the nuclear and missile programs and was therefore eased out. ZAB (April 1979) and Gen Ziaul Haq (August 1988) were made horrible examples on account of pursuing weaponized nuclear program. Nawaz Sharif (NS) was punished in October 1999 for carrying out nuclear tests in May 1998.
The enemies couldn’t achieve their major objectives but did succeed in bleeding Pakistan and its people profusely, both in terms of human and financial losses by making use of their proxies. In Sindh, PPP and MQM (proxy of RAW and MI-6) caused financial and human bleeding by indulging in financial terrorism to the tune of Rs. 240 billion annually and in terrorism. The rulers plundered and looted the wealth of Pakistan with both hands and broke all records of corruption. State corporations were systematically destroyed due to nepotism and corrupt practices. Foreign debts were doubled and Pakistan was gripped by worst energy crisis since not a single MW was added to the national electricity grid by the Musharraf government or by the PPP government. IPPs running thermal plants installed by Benazir in 1995/6 gained monopoly.
By the time the power was handed over to PML-N government in June 2013, all economic indicators were in negative, state corporations were on oxygen and gasping for life, many industrialists had gone abroad and others were in the process of shifting on account of 20 hours load shedding, acute gas shortage and insecurity. Economy was teetering at the edge of collapse and Pakistan was seen as the most insecure and dangerous State at the verge of becoming a failed state. Morals and human values had stooped low. Criminals and corrupt were rewarded and patronized by the powerful while the honest and upright officials were hounded and persecuted. Karachi and Baluchistan had become lawless and were slipping out of the hands of the State. Over 60 militant groups were in collusion with TTP and North Waziristan had become their most powerful fort.
The overall gloomy internal economic and security situation duly sensationalized by paid media suited the enemies of Pakistan since it fitted into the overall design of digging the last nail in the coffin of Pakistan after first destabilizing it from within. They were sure that Pakistan will never be able to recover from economic and energy crises and it will keep sinking. Internal disorder had been externally accentuated by Indian hostility, Afghanistan’s abrasiveness and the US highhandedness to keep Pakistan in the dock.
To their utter surprise, sick Pakistan began to recover within first year of the new regime under NS. Initiation of intelligence-based focused operations in Karachi, Baluchistan and FATA together with better governance and financial management improved the security situation and the economy. Energy crisis was tackled using multiple systems. Their worries multiplied when China agreed in April 2014 to launch gigantic CPEC project in September 2014.
Extremist and terrorist Modi was installed as PM in India in June 2014. Under an orchestrated plan he adopted an aggressive posture against Pakistan. The LoC and working boundary in Kashmir were heated up, atrocities against the Kashmiris in occupied Kashmir were intensified, false flag operations and water terrorism were resorted to, propaganda war was boosted, and proxy war was intensified in the three conflict zones of Pakistan with emphasis on Baluchistan.
Modi then embarked upon the plan to isolate Pakistan. In this regard, he succeeded in making Afghanistan hostile and western border tense, making Iran-Pakistan relations inauspicious, and sowing seeds of misgivings among the Saudi led Gulf States toward Pakistan. In order to hide their crimes and failures, the US, India and Afghanistan in sync blamed Pakistan for abetting terrorism despite the fact that Pakistan suffered the most at the hands of foreign paid proxies and performed far better in grappling with the menace of terrorism than any other country. Pakistan’s image began to improve when it achieved dazzling successes against terrorism.
At a time when the enemies of Pakistan were wailing over their failure to achieve any of their objectives against Pakistan and feeling dejected over improvement in Pakistan’s economy and inking of China-Pakistan agreement in September 2014, the political atmosphere was suddenly charged up by Imran Khan (IK) and Tahirul Qadri in July 2014 after the two secretly met in London. Other participants were Sheikh Rashid, Choudhry brothers and Altaf Hussain. Many suspect that the sit-in in Islamabad was timed to sabotage CPEC agreement.
They also suspect that Panama case may also be another ploy of enemies of Pakistan to topple elected government on charges of corruption and money laundering and induce political chaos with a view to disrupt development projects and CPEC. This is after all the lone option short of war left with the adversaries. From among the long list of account holders in the Panama offshore company, resurgent China, resurging Russia under Putin and resurging nuclear Pakistan under NS pushing forward CPEC are the only worthwhile targets for USA and none else. Nothing happens to any other country if the PM resigns or is booted out. But Putin and NS do matter.
Those who smell foul play, are of the view that Pakistan has been made to play a game of snake and ladder since its inception. Whenever Pakistan started climbing up the ladder of prosperity, either it was bitten by the snake or someone pulled the ladder from underneath to pull it down and make it climb up from the bottom. This vicious game has been going on for the last 70 years and Pakistan has lurched from one crisis to another.
They argue, that now that Pakistan’s economic health was on its way to recovery and CPEC was to give the desired boost for the takeoff, it is again being pulled down under a foreign conspiracy. CJCSC Gen Zubair Mahmood Hayat stated on July 15 that that hostile agencies based in Afghanistan and other locations are creating unrest in Pakistan in general and Baluchistan in particular under a premeditated agenda.
Panama case which was heard by 5-member SCB handed over the case to the implementation SCB of 3 members and also constituted a 6-member JIT under it to find out answers to 13 questions within 60 days to arrive at final decision. The JIT submitted its 10-volume report to the SCB on July 10. The SCB has provided copies of nine volumes of JIT report to the petitioners and defendants but has withheld the 10th volume on account of national security sensitivity. Salient aspects of the report are:
A. NS and his family live beyond their declared income.
B. Money laundering has taken place.
C. Hasan Nawaz couldn’t provide documents to justify his assets abroad.
D. Maryam is a beneficiary and not a trustee of properties abroad.
E. Tariq Shafi couldn’t provide proof of purchase and sale of Gulf Steel Mills abroad.
F. Chairman SCEP Hijazi had done tampering in records of Sugar Mills.
The six-member JIT has virtually nailed NS, his sons Hussain and Hassan, his daughter Maryam, his cousin Tariq Shafi, Ishaq Dar and SECP Chairman Hijazi. JIT recommended sending reference to NAB about NS and Maryam. FIR was registered against Hijazi but he has been given bail before arrest.
PTI after initiating the legal battle in June 2016 is confident that it has finally snared the quarry and pushed it into a well from which it cannot retrieve itself. Imran Khan (IK) was upbeat and overconfident that the SCB will disqualify NS on July 17, and in anticipation congratulated his party workers and summoned them to gather in Islamabad to celebrate the political demise of NS and his family with fanfare and to see NS taken to Adiala Jail. He not only asked NS to step down but also sought dissolution of assemblies. Anything short of indictment, conviction and disqualification of NS, or even delay in the proceedings will be unacceptable to IK and will make him go raving mad. He is in great hurry to push NS into the dustbin of history, and open the doors for the silent rebels and turncoats within PML-N to join his party. He foresees the repeat performance of PML-N legislators as they had acted after the October 1999 coup.
PPP, JI, PML-Q, two factions of MQM have joined hands with PTI and all are pressing NS to resign but do not favor the second demand. JUI-F, QWP led by Sherpao, ANP under Asfandyar, and NP under Hasil Bizenjo do not favor the demand of resignation saying that final decision of the SC should be awaited.
NS presided over the cabinet meeting followed by parliamentary party conference. All the participants reposed full confidence in him and strongly recommended that the case must by fought back with full force. NS stated that in his 35 years political history, he has not indulged in penny worth corruption and even now there is no case of corruption against him. He and others in his party smell conspiracy. He has decided not to resign and has pledged to fight his political opponents legally and politically. PML-N legal team decided to challenge the JIT report which it says is biased, predisposed, and full of inaccuracies and assumptions.
There is an impression among the PML-N and its allies that the JIT could not have prepared this voluminous report and traced clues inside and outside the country in this short time without the backing of Army. They feel that the Army was the driving force and the members of ISI and MI played a key role in bolstering the spirits of other 4 members.
In order to put the record straight, DG ISPR Maj Gen Ghafoor held a press briefing on July 16 and stated that the Army had no direct role in JIT and that the two military members were inducted in JIT on express orders of the SC and that they did their work honestly and unbiasedly.
The dice is heavily loaded against NS and his family. It will be a miracle if NS survives and comes out of this tangle unscathed. Looking in hindsight, it may be seen that NS is partially responsible for putting himself in an unenviable position. He was so confident to come out clean that he voluntarily presented himself and his family for open ended probe and accountability. Neither he opted to use his immunity shield, nor did he keep his two sons aside for being foreign nationals since 1993. He could have challenged the authenticity of SCB on the basis that the case had turned political in nature. He empowered the JIT to carryout probe related to Panama case anywhere in the world.
Once he smelt that something was cooking during the JIT probe, he could have avoided presenting himself before the JIT. Seeing the hostile attitude of JIT members, his legal team should have advised him to stop cooperating with JIT. Without full cooperation of the defendants, the JIT could not have compiled the report with incriminating findings. They could have adopted the strategy of dillydallying tactics as was done by BB and Zardari and now by IK. While Zardari managed to keep the SC in spin for 11 long years and escaped unhurt, NS had only one year to buy which was not difficult. But NS wanted a clean chit before entering the election arena in 2018 and he was sure to get it in the backdrop of 3 clean chits he got in the past. He was confident that there is no corruption or kickbacks/commission case against him.
As predicted, Panama gate have made the sky overcast with dark clouds, and there is lightning and thunder. It looks that the clouds are at the verge of bursting. On July 17, the 3-Member Implementation SCB which is an Appellate Court, resumed hearing of the case based on damning JIT report. As expected, the respondents submitted their application asserting that the JIT report is biased and has been compiled with mala fide intentions and dishonesty and should be rejected and must not become part of the SCB probe. They have pointed out the flaws and put forward 23 objections to prove their contention that JIT was partial.
This move blocked the chances of immediate decision by the SCB as was wished by the petitioners but was legally not possible. Hawks of PML-N are now mockingly asking pointed questions from the courts and Election Commission as to why NS and his family are being so fervently chased and why so much leeway given to IK and others in PTI against whom several cases have been lodged.
Next hearing by SCB will be held tomorrow. The protagonists after straining their lungs in the National/Provincial Assembles and media houses have now drawn their swords and are itching to clash with each other in the streets. Political polarization and antagonism has peaked as was seen in the 1990s and tempers have scaled new heights. Bedlam and physical clash is imminent and it fits into the scheme of foreign conspirators. They must be laughing their guts out seeing the whole lot of 20 crores in Pakistan going berserk and dancing to their tunes. Media is showing glimpses of the madness of so-called educated lot.
This week will witness high pitched verbal battles and possibly scuffles outside the court premises, flexing of muscles, sabre rattling and brawls. No side will accept the decision of SC going against its wishes. It’s to be seen whether the Chief Justice constitutes a new Bench, or the incumbent Bench after hearing the arguments of both sides, files a reference against the PM for trial by NAB or accountability court; or defer the case in the wake of dangerous external threats and ongoing battle with terrorists including Daesh. All options before the SCB point toward time-delay of 1-2 months and not quick fix decision.
The writer is a retired Brig, war veteran, defence and security analyst, columnist, a featured columnist in Veterans Today, author of 5 books, Vice Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre. [email protected]
Brig. General Asif Haroon Raja a Member Board of Advisors Opinion Maker is Staff College and Armed Forces WarCoursequalified holds MSc war studies degree; a second generation officer, he fought the epic battle of Hilli in northwest East Bengal during 1971 war, in which Maj M. Akram received Nishan-e-Haider posthumously.
He served as Directing Staff Command & Staff College, Defence Attaché Egypt, and Sudan and Dean of Corps of Military Attaches in Cairo. He commanded the heaviest brigade in Kashmir. He is lingual and speaks English, Pashto and Punjabi fluently.
He is author of books titled ‘Battle of Hilli’, ‘1948, 1965 & 1971 Kashmir Battles and Freedom Struggle’, ‘Muhammad bin Qasim to Gen Musharraf’, Roots of 1971 Tragedy’; has written a number of motivational pamphlets. Draft of his next book ‘Tangled Knot of Kashmir’ is ready.
He is a defense analyst and columnist and writes articles on security, defense and political matters for numerous international/national publications.