A significant proportion of the 200 plus Pakistanis in this case are politicians, compared to the diverse set of celebrities, politicians, and business tycoons in India
The Panama Papers seem to be the talk of town lately; actually they have probably been one of the most important discussions currently taking place across the international community. Also, Mossack Fonseca has also become one of the most talked-about (infamous or famous, depends on perspective) companies in the world; all this publicity has definitely helped with its brand promotion, especially targeting those who had never heard about it, probably the people who are unlikely to afford its services.
Ordinary people are either in complete awe, riling with frustration or already on the streets protesting. Some see the leak as a sign of the rich and powerful making the most of their privileges, while others believe it is simply an unethical means for these people to evade taxes, and the more radical are calling for the heads of some of those named in the documents.
In fact, Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson has already stepped down from his post, after the Icelandic people took to the streets of Reykjavik, demanding governmental change. They have returned to the streets to ask for further change within their government. The question looming on everyone’s minds though is: what does it mean for Pakistan and in particular, its leadership?
As we all know Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is all over the news, as he always seems to be, but this time his sons, Hassan and Hussain, along with the heir to the throne, his daughter, Maryam Nawaz, have joined him, albeit for very unique reasons. According to the leaked reports, both Hussain and Maryam have ownership stakes in the British Virgin Islands-based firms Nielsen Enterprises Limited and Nescoll Limited, while Hassan is the director of Hangon Property Holdings Limited, which was also incorporated in the British Virgin Islands. However, the involvement of Nawaz Sharif and his relatives (including Shahbaz Sharif and family) is not the most surprising or worrying aspect of the leak, per se. Rather, it is the fact that over 200 other Pakistanis have also been named in the documents including several other politicians, celebrity entrepreneurs such as Malik Riaz (his son has been named), and even lawmen, including former Attorney General Malik Qayyum.
Of course, no one has ever doubted that there are several enormously rich people in Pakistan, especially some of our politicians. Yet, considering the current state of our country, and the shockingly large amount of Pakistani names in the Panama Papers, it is almost frightening to imagine, let alone know, how much money they are making through these offshore firms. When making comparisons between Pakistan and other countries, and reconciling them with the leaks, one can better understand how drastic and precarious this situation is.
After all, 500 Indian names were found in the leak, and at least 800 people from Australia were mentioned as well. From a quantitative perspective this should be reason enough for Pakistanis to collectively take to the streets, not to protest the government per se, but to protest where their money is being used, as the aforementioned numbers are not that far off from those of Pakistan. Moreover, India currently has a GDP of over two trillion dollars, while Australia’s GDP is well over 1.5 trillion dollars. On the other hand, Pakistan’s GDP is approximately $250 billion. Why is it then that a country with a miniscule GDP compared to the ones abovementioned, has such a significantly large number of rich people partaking in tax evasion through these means? After all, there is no doubt that the economies of both India and Australia are enormous in size; both are members of the G20 as well.
However, GDP is not the sole means for determining the prosperity (or lack of) of a state or measuring the proportion of its rich and how their dealings affect a nation. We must also take into account that a significant proportion of the 200 plus Pakistanis in this case are politicians, compared to the diverse set of celebrities, politicians, and business tycoons in India, and a large number of companies and corporate leaders in Australia. Additionally, all three countries have taken measures to investigate the leak and the people involved as well. Yet there is no mention of Narendra Modi or Malcolm Turnbull (despite his well-known offshore companies in the Cayman Islands), unlike several names from the Sharif Family.
Based on the aforementioned information, it is easy to see that the leaks have only further proven that corruption runs rife across Pakistan. Not that there is anything illegal about offshore investments or accounts, rather, it is the set of unethical choices made by 200 plus people of our country, specifically the politicians. This can only make one wonder how much they truly care about this nation, and whether or not its prosperity is of the slightest interest to them.
Let’s also remember that Mossack Fonseca is only the world’s fourth biggest provider of offshore services, who knows how many more offshore firms our leaders are in the possession of, and how many more may not be clients of Mossack Fonseca, but may very well be included in possible leaks featuring the bigger offshore-service companies, in the future (if this happens, of course). For now, we can only hope that some sort of positives comes out of the prime minister-initiated investigations, although it is that very hope that we may take to our graves, as nothing good is likely to come out of them, especially when assessing the large range of people to be named.
The writer is research coordinator for the South Asia Study Group. He tweets @Zushanhashmi