Oh, that moment of weakness if only it could be forgotten when Isaac called for pen and paper and in his own hand and at considerable length penned down the saga of money-laundering allegedly associated with the house whose top accountant he had been for so many years.
The tell-all tale was spread over 43 pages, no detail spared, everything about how fake bank accounts in international banks were opened in the names of the Qazi family, long known to Dar. Money from mysterious sources then came into these accounts before being transferred to the Hudaybia Paper Mills.
The Sharifs are a religious family and the choice of this name testifies to their religious zeal. That this did not prevent the things being done under the rubric of this near-sacred name is of course a different matter.
We are more secular than we care to acknowledge, rendering unto Caesar and Mammon what is theirs, and to Allah what is His. Prayers, fasting and other religious obligations we keep for the uses of the Hereafter. For the here and now we tend to be more pragmatic.
But returning to the confessions, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had to extract no forced signatures from Isaac’s hands. He wrote the entire account himself and put his signature to it. And also, again in his own hand, he asked for leniency. Since he had out-performed any canary in singing, his name was removed from the list of the accused and he was made an approver…in other words, prime witness for the prosecution.
The money-laundering charge was but one case against the Sharifs. There were several others. But all of them were put on hold when through the intercession of their Saudi benefactors the Sharifs were taken from their prison cells and flown to the Holy Land. When in the twilight of the Musharraf era the so-called National Reconciliation Order was promulgated and Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan, followed by Nawaz Sharif’s own return – this too being the result of Saudi pressure – the national landscape changed.
Bhutto’s assassination rocked the Musharraf regime and in the elections which followed his King’s Party, the Q League, fared poorly. The PPP took power at the centre and Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N, with no small help from Asif Ali Zardari, formed the government in Punjab, the nerve-centre of Pakistani politics. The PPP and the PML-N having come close to each other, no one was interested in pursuing the old cases, including the Hudaybia case based on Ishaq Dar’s confession.
Both the Sharifs and Asif Ali Zardari were quick to approach the courts to quash these cases. Dar did the same and his confession was quashed, it being declared as of no ‘evidentiary value’. Because all of this was being played on a friendly wicket, NAB did not go into appeal against this friendly decision.
We can imagine Isaac’s sense of relief. Incarceration under the Musharraf regime was not so much a nightmare as the statement he had given. Now seemingly the nightmare was over, the albatross round the neck of the former approver finally cut loose.
Remember also that Musharraf being a coup-making general, the charges brought by his regime against the Sharifs – quite apart from whether they were true or false – never elicited any great moral outrage on the part of the intelligentsia, the political class or so-called civil society, all of whom were more obsessed with denouncing dictatorship and celebrating the restoration of democracy, these being the flavours of that time. Corruption and accountability constituted a forgotten agenda.
Zardari was clever but the Sharifs outplayed him, successfully pulling a veil of obfuscation over their own financial exploits and keeping the spotlight on the PPP, an endeavour in which they received powerful assistance from the restored chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, who could only see the mote in the PPP’s eyes, never the glint in the eyes of the PML-N.
Small wonder, the PPP was branded as an irredeemably corrupt enterprise while the Sharifs were seen as exemplars of good governance and champions of development, a perception paying them handsome dividends in the 2013 elections.
True, Gen Raheel Sharif’s ascendancy became a problem for them because no one likes to walk in someone else’s shadow; and the 2014 dharnas came near to toppling their government. But the general in his winter no longer the commanding figure he was and the dharnas a receding memory, this was a time to savour their triumphs and think calmly about the future.
But everything has been upended by that bolt from the blue, the Panama papers and the hearings in the Supreme Court triggered by them. Uncomfortable questions are being asked for which there are no ready answers and demons long thought to have been laid to rest, like the confessions of St Isaac, are once again on the march, leading to fresh nightmares. When Dar’s lawyer said before the Supreme Court that Dar’s statement could not be used against him, it was suggested to him that could it not be used against the prime minister?
We don’t know what becomes of it or what value is put on it. But the Sharifs have reason to be worried because the money trial leading to their offshore accounts and rich London properties is right there in this statement, backed by evidence in black-and-white: dates, bank accounts, deposits and transfers, etc.
The defence the PML-N is mounting rests on one word, duress – the contention that Isaac’s confessions were extracted through coercion, the word gunpoint also being used. Significantly, however, no one is saying that what is in the confessional statement, the details of money-laundering, are false. Shouldn’t that be the real burden of the PML-N’s argument?
It should really be a simple matter. The accounts opened in the names of the Qazi family may be fraudulent but the Qazis are real, living people. Why don’t they come up and say that what is being said about them is baseless, with no truth to these charges?
Why go on about duress when what Dar and his defenders should be saying is that the contents of the confessional statement are false – that there never were any Qazi accounts and so the question of mysterious funds being deposited in them simply does not arise?
If they were to do this nothing would be left in the Panama case except sound and fury. And Dar’s nightmare would be finally over. But saying not a word about content they are giving the entire nation a sob story of extraction under pressure. If they debunk the contents of the confession the duress charge is automatically proved. But if they go on about duress while not touching the substance of the story who is to believe Isaac’s protestations?
People retract confessions all the time, not only claiming coercion but roundly denying what they are accused of. Here the funny thing is that in a case which could well have a bearing on the country’s future a person indirectly involved is beating about the bush while saying nothing of the charge against him…and by extension, of the damning charge against the Sharifs.