Everything else is secondary. The only important thing at the moment is the verdict in the Panama case. It’s not going to end corruption. It’s not going to set new standards of morality, and it certainly isn’t going to usher in a new era of accountability. We can discount such high-flown expectations. But you don’t have to be a professional bell-ringer to see that the verdict will set the direction of national politics for the foreseeable future, upending the political status quo. That is not a small consequence.
> Leave aside anti-Sharif enthusiasts. The surprising thing is that even Sharif partisans in the media have begun talking of ‘worst-case scenarios’…like PM Nawaz Sharif having to step down because of the verdict. Just a few weeks ago no such voices were to be heard, certainly none from the Sharif camp. But when sturdy pro-Nawaz media champions start discussing such possibilities then we get a feel of the anxiety gnawing at the heart of the ruling party.
> Another indication of the PML-N’s worry and its dipping confidence: such of its media loudspeakers as Daniyal Aziz and the inimitable Talal Chaudry have fallen silent. This is strange. This should have been the time to make their presence felt on TV screens, a more effective debating forum in today’s Pakistan than the two houses of Parliament. But it’s as if they have vanished into thin air.
> Another sign of the times: loud-talking ministers have also fallen silent. What’s happened to Khawaja Saad Rafique’s bravado? The last time he was heard on the subject he was taunting their lordships---that if they couldn’t read the pages from the life of Nawaz Sharif it was their fault, not anyone else’s. Brave words but that was all, no follow-up. Anyone could have been forgiven for thinking that if there was a time for party defenders like him to speak up it was now. But it’s all quiet on that front.
> These are straws in the wind but put them together and you get the feeling that the ruling party and the Nawaz Sharif family---which is in the eye of the storm---are coming to fear the worst. The PM himself is trying to put up a brave face, going here and there and cutting tapes and trying to look unconcerned, but as the suspense deepens and PML-N voices fall to barely audible whispers it is clear that the ruling party is under a cloud.
> What makes the ruling family’s predicament worse is the fact that for the first time in their long political innings they find themselves helpless to influence the higher judiciary, much less the judges on the bench hearing the Panama case.
> The family has been past masters at this game---influencing the judiciary. But at the most crucial moment in their lives it’s as if their luck finally has run out. Nawaz Sharif with a ‘heavy mandate’ behind him was, once upon a time, not beyond storming the Supreme Court. It’s a measure of the changed times that the only recourse left to him now is to look to the heavens for rescue and succour.
> And their lordships are taking their time, building up the suspense to levels that would do Alfred Hitchcock proud. The longer they have delayed their judgment the more the PML-N’s confidence has waned. The delay, furthermore, seems to have strengthened the idea that the verdict will be hard on Nawaz Sharif and his family---who courtesy the Panama Papers face allegations of money-laundering and much else besides.
> We thus may be at a turning point in our history. The PPP as an effective political force in Punjab, the powerhouse of Pakistani politics, is finished…this despite Asif Zardari’s tall claims of being able to engineer a comeback in the coming elections. The ground the PPP once held is now lost to Imran Khan’s PTI. Retrieving that lost ground will require more than braggadocio and the occasional visit to Malik Riaz’s gift of a Bilawal House in Lahore. Now we may be on the verge of seeing if not the eclipsing at least the diminishing of the PML-N.
> This will represent a turning point: the curtain coming down on 30-35 years of our history. The PPP and the PML-N, with their family-based leaderships, represent the past. The Bhutto chapter goes back to Ayub Khan’sd time; the Sharifs rose to political prominence in the era of Gen Zia-ul-Haq. Both parties in their own ways mouth the old slogans. They have nothing new to offer. If Pakistan is to move forward, if it is to come to grips with its many problems, it needs fresh ideas as much as it needs a fresh start.
> Zardari was the architect of the PPP’s diminution. The Sharifs are facing a test because of something falling from the skies…the Panama revelations being nothing less than a thunderbolt, something for which they were wholly unprepared. They have faced serious cases before---allegations which would have undone anyone else. They not only remained untouched but successfully kept up a pretense of innocence and outraged virtue. The Panama affair, regardless of what the verdict is, has shattered the pretense and laid bare the reality underneath. No emperor could have been shown more without his clothes.
> Regardless of the verdict this is already a stricken and crippled government. Who on the world stage---apart from such friends as President Erdogan of Turkey and the royal household in the Holy Land---would take Nawaz Sharif as a serious interlocutor after the Panama allegations? At home too the credibility of the ruling clan has been seriously dented. Ishaq Dar’s confessional statement about money-laundering---a nightmare he would have thought was over after a favourable Lahore high court ruling---got a fresh lease of life from the Panama hearings. Wouldn’t this affect his credibility as a finance minister and his confidence as an individual?
> For the Sharifs more than a legal problem this has been a nightmare unfolding---confined not to the horror or terror of a single night but spread almost over a year, each fresh episode and revelation adding to the intensity of the nightmare.
> This case has turned the name Qatar into a national joke. Who but the Sharif children could have transformed an invocation such as ‘Alhamdolillah’ into a matter for laughter? Maryam Safdar to all intents and purposes was being groomed as the next in line to her father, Nawaz Sharif. But her carefully groomed image also lies shattered after these hearings.
> The Sharifs have escaped so much and enjoyed such a long stint in power and now to be caught in this thing wafting from across the seven seas, from a faraway place most Pakistanis would never have heard of…Panama. If there were heroic figures involved this would have been called a Greek tragedy. The Sharifs have never attracted the label ‘heroic’ but this doesn’t make this tragedy---its last scenes yet to be played out---any the less real for them.