Panama Papers: Army chief’s comments add to pressure on PM Sharif

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and members of his inner circle went into a huddle on Wednesday following the army chief’s comments on the need for across-the-board accountability to root out corruption from Pakistan.

Finance minister Ishaq Dar, a close aide of Sharif, told the media after the meeting in Islamabad that the government will soon introduce anti-corruption legislation in parliament.

Hectic political activity was witnessed in Islamabad after Sharif returned from a brief personal visit to Britain on Tuesday. Political observers said there were fears the anti-corruption watchdog, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), will launch an investigation against all Pakistani nationals linked to the Panama Papers leaks.

Around 220 Pakistanis, including Sharif’s two sons and daughter, have been named in the massive leak of documents from Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca about offshore holdings.

Sharif’s visit to London – ostensibly for a medical check-up – led to rumours that he was leaving the country to escape the heat generated by the Panama Papers. Army chief Gen Raheel Sharif’s remarks about the need to root out corruption increased the pressure on the prime minister. .

On Tuesday, Raheel Sharif told an army event in Kohat: “Across-the-board accountability is necessary for the solidarity, integrity and prosperity of Pakistan. Pakistan’s armed forces will fully support every meaningful effort in that direction, which would ensure a better future for our next generations.”

In response, defence minister Khawaja Asif told the media the army chief’s remarks were not restricted to the Panama Papers leaks.

The prime minister has already rejected allegations of money laundering, saying his children have legitimate businesses abroad.

Nawaz Sharif has ordered the setting up of an inquiry commission to probe the issue, but most opposition parties have rejected the move, saying the terms of reference and the choice of person to lead the commission are not acceptable to them.

Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party has called for a judge of the Supreme Court to head the body, a call that has been rejected by the government. Khan’s party met on Wednesday to chalk out its line of action to pressure the government.

Opposition leader Khurshid Shah told journalists the government will have to listen to the objections of other parties before any sort of consensus can be reached.

The main opposition Pakistan People’s Party earlier proposed the name of the chairman of the Senate, Raza Rabbani, to head the commission. But Rabbani refused to accept the position, citing personal reasons.

“The choice of who will head the commission is crucial,” said one observer. “But that will depend on what powers are given to the commission.”

So far, the belief in Islamabad is the commission will remain toothless and not be in a position to challenge the holdings of the prime minister’s family. Despite the passage of around two weeks since the Panama Papers became public, the government is still unclear about finalising the mechanism of the inquiry.

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