Democracy After Sharif in Pakistan

Caught Between the Military and the Courts

Courtesy Reuters

The 2016 Panama Papers leaks were supposed to be a tool for the forces of democracy. They were meant to expose corruption and reinvigorate institutions. By one reading, the resignation of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after the country’s Supreme Court declared him guilty in a corruption trial relating to the papers seems like a case in point. In fact, however, it shows that the leaks have become a tool of the anti-democratic in some instances. In Pakistan, the revelations came as the country was undergoing a return to full democracy. Now that process has been set back.

Part of the problem is the way Pakistan’s media handled the leaks. The country’s prominent outlets had long been censored and vilified by the military and powerful civilian politicians alike. Journalists who have spoken critically of the establishment have been attacked fiercely; for example, the journalist Hamid Mir, who was shot in Karachi, had irked Pakistan’s dominant intelligence agency by critiquing its activities against other journalists and civilians. The result of such cases was excessive airtime and a free pass for pro-establishment opinion.

When the Panama leaks came out, however, the media opened to voices critical to the sitting party (if not the entire establishment). Conventional wisdom quickly came to hold that the prime minister should resign. Most mainstream television programs organized panels vilifying Sharif for looting the nation. And the majority of the public went along, blaming him for the corruption that has plagued the nation for a long time.

At the forefront of the media campaign has been Imran Khan, head of the Pakistan Justice Party, who had tried to galvanize the nation against Sharif since the leader took office in 2013. Although Khan presents himself as a pro-democratic leader, he has at times been called a puppet of the military. In fact, he once admitted to having been brought into politics with the help of former military dictator Pervez Musharraf. Critics assert that the purpose was to counter

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