The Pulse

Imran Khan’s Unwarranted Posturing Over the ‘Panama Papers’

Imran Khan may have crossed the line with his latest critiques of the Pakistani prime minister.

Imran Khan’s Unwarranted Posturing Over the ‘Panama Papers’
Credit: Imran Khan image via Awais khan /

After championing the cause of accountability against Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif over the Panama Leaks issue, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan issued a statement that could possibly give way to negative connotations in countries like Pakistan, especially regarding the future of its political parties.

Khan’s remarks were centered on the prime minister’s children, whose involvement in the Panama Papers crisis has drawn considerable attention. While it is undoubtedly true that their offshore holdings have a bearing on the credibility of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) (PML-N) by linking the prime minister’s off shore holdings with his ailing health, Khan’s remarks also suggest an interest in scoring political points.

Khan’s behavior is driven by political opportunism. The disclosures in the Panama Papers have suddenly galvanized the PTI, which was otherwise at risk for being isolated after the 2013 Long March protests aimed at deposing the prime minister over election rigging charges.

While accountability and justice are subjects which the PTI has rallied for since their inception, Khan has a history of coming under fire for personal attacks or issuing personal statements during the election campaigns in the lead up to the 2013 elections. A direct reference to the prime minister’s deteriorating health is certainly unwarranted, especially given the timing of it, right as Sharif was undergoing medical treatment. His condition has prompted several prime ministers and presidents across the world to send their well wishes for a speedy recovery.

Such statements from a party that believes in the principles of justice can be viewed negatively, especially by those who have pinned their hopes on the PTI as being a harbinger of change in a country rife with corruption and nepotism. While the demands for accountability are praiseworthy, it would help if the PTI would focus more on the issues at hand instead of linking corruption charges with the sudden deterioration of a fellow citizen’s health, let alone the prime minister’s.

Such statements may also have political implications, considering how the PTI had not forged alliances or cooperated with other opposition political parties except in the investigation of the Panama Papers leak. For instance, the PTI and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) have been championing the cause of holding the prime minister accountable over the leaks at the same time. This alliance focuses on the PML-N’s Terms of References (TORs) for investigating the Panama Papers, but unlike the PTI, the PPP has refrained from issuing immature political statements while calling for accountability.

While one can disagree with policies and leadership styles, or point out corruption in a democracy, it is important that arguments and statements center on issues and issues alone. This holds true for the PTI regarding its personal attacks at Sharif over his immediate family, fortune, and intentions, all of which are equally deplorable and unacceptable. It is imperative to understand that in matters involving politics, political maturity needs to be exercised by politicians like Khan–displaying maturity is both important for him and the future of his political party.

Hamzah Rifaat is a research associate at the Global Think Tank Network at the National University of Sciences and Technology and a 2016 Visiting Fellow at the Stimson Center.