Friday, May 25, 2018

Sharif's and Trump's Strikingly Similar Narratives

President of the United States Donald John Trump and Pakistan's former prime minister Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif are both under investigation by law enforcement agencies in their respective countries. Both men allege that they are victims of conspiracies against them by the "Criminal Deep State", better known as "the establishment" in Pakistan. The two men have accused the investigators, prosecutors and the judges of being biased against them. Their narratives are strikingly similar. Sharif and Trump have polarized and divided their nations by asking the voters to stand by them and to reject what they describe as a political "witch hunt". Both have succeeded in maintaining the support of the vast majority of their party legislators so far.

Donald Trump and Nawaz Sharif
Attacking Investigators:

Donald Trump has denounced the FBI teams working for Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Russia Collusion as "partisan Democrats". He has demanded that the FBI be investigated for "spying" on his 2016 presidential campaign. He has called the entire investigation a "witch hunt" by "criminal deep state" actors in the law enforcement and intelligence communities. He has described the FBI raid of his lawyer Michael Cohen's office as a "break-in".

Trump's Republican supporters in the House of Representatives of US Congress have made an unprecedented demand to see documents related to the FBI investigation of the President.

Like Trump, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif too has attacked the JIT (Joint Investigative Team) set up the Pakistan Supreme Court as being biased against him. Like Trump, Sharif has denounced the entire process of money laundering investigation against him as a "conspiracy" by the "establishment" (Deep State).

Nawaz Sharif's PMLN supporters have so far stood with their leader.

Distrust in Judiciary:

President Trump has repeatedly and viciously attacked judges who have issued orders unfavorable to him. Even before he was elected, candidate Trump accused a US-born judge with a Mexican last name of being biased him because  "he is Mexican and I'm building a wall".

Like Trump, Nawaz Sharif has accused his country's Supreme Court judges of acting against him on behalf of the "establishment" (the Deep State).

Politicizing Legal Processes: 

Both Trump and Sharif have used the legal accountability they face to rally political support for themselves. By arguing that they both face political witch hunt for their policies and not their alleged conduct, they have fired up their supporters and polarized their nations.  Both have delegitimized the institutions of law and justice in their attempts to beat the law enforcement agencies and the justice system in their respective countries.

Attempts by Trump's and Sharif to politicize legal proceedings against them are causing deep divisions in both the United States and Pakistan. These divisions don't augur well for the countries and the future of their institutions. They pose a threat to law and order and national security.

Lying to Law Enforcement:

While the right to remain silent is guaranteed under the 5th amendment of the US constitution, lying to law enforcement officials is a felony that triggers charges of obstruction of justice. These charges can potentially result in serious jail time. While state laws may vary across jurisdictions, obstructing a federal investigation is a felony with a potential five year prison sentence. Some of Trump's aides, including his former national security advisor General Michael Flynn, have already pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and obstruction of justice charges.  Trump's  team is trying to avoid the obstruction of justice charges against the President.

Similarly, there are Articles 62 and 63 of the Pakistan constitution that require that the public office holders be honest. While one may question the specific meanings of the words "sadiq" and "ameen" written in the constitution,  it is ridiculous to argue that deliberate lying by the highest officials of the country go unpunished.  In answers to questions by law enforcement regarding the sources of funds for buying London properties owned by the Sharif family, Mr. Sharif's multiple different conflicting explanations to the parliament, law enforcement and the people constitute a  big white lie.

Foreign Residency (Iqama):

Mr. Nawaz Sharif says he has been disqualified by the Supreme Court for Iqama (foreign residency), not Panama (money laundering). What he doesn't acknowledge is that Iqma facilitates Panama. Nor does he fully explain the source of funds used by his children to buy properties in London at the time they were too young to have their own legitimate incomes to afford to buy the properties.

Assets held by people in offshore tax havens are tracked by their country of residence, not by their citizenship, under OECD sponsored Agreement On Exchange of Information on Tax Matters. Pakistan is a signatory of this international agreement.  When Pakistan seeks information from another country under this agreement,  the nation's FBR gets only the information on asset holders who have declared Pakistan as their country of residence. Information on those Pakistanis who claim residency (iqama) in another country is not shared with Pakistani government. This loophole allows many Pakistani asset holders with iqamas in other countries to hide their assets. Many of Pakistan's top politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen hold residency visas in the Middle East, Europe and North America.

Money Laundering:

Money laundering is a very serious problem resulting in the illicit outflow of trillions of dollars from the poor to the rich countries, according to data compiled by Washington-based Global Financial Integrity.   Bloomberg has reported that Pakistanis alone own as much as $150 billion worth of undeclared assets offshore.

There's a direct relationship between investment and GDP. Flight of capital reduces domestic investment and depresses economic growth in poor countries. Lower tax revenues also impact spending on education, health care and infrastructure, resulting in poor socioeconomic indicators.

A recent report by the British National Crime Agency (NCA) has identified Pakistan as one of the top three source countries for money laundering to the United Kingdom where Nawaz Sharif's family owns expensive real estate. Both the UK NCA report and Panama papers show that the politicians and their family members are the biggest culprits in money laundering.

President vs Prime Minister:

Presidents as heads of state in most countries avoid prosecution while in office. Prime Ministers as heads of government do not enjoy the same immunity.

The US president is both the head of state and the head of government. There is no precedent of any US president being indicted while in office. The closest that a prosecutor ever came to indicting a president was in 1974 when President Richard Nixon was named an "un-indicted co-conspirator" in Watergate.  President Nixon resigned when he saw that the US Congress was ready to impeach him. Later, President Gerald Ford pardoned President Nixon, sparing him the humiliation of indictment and-or conviction.

In Pakistan, the President does enjoy immunity from prosecution while in office. The Prime Minister does not.


Faced with serious charges against them, US President Donald Trump and Pakistan's ex premier Nawaz Sharif are attacking investigators, prosectors and judges in their respective countries. Both are politicizing the legal processes and delegitimizing institutions of democracy in the United States and Pakistan. Their narratives are strikingly similar. They are  polarizing their people and dividing their societies.  These divisions don't augur well for the countries and their institutions.

Here's a discussion on the subject:

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

South Asia Investor Review

UK Names Pakistan Among Top Sources of Money Laundering

Did Musharraf Steal Pakistani People's Money?

Pakistan Economy Hobbled By Underinvestment

Raymond Baker on Corruption in Pakistan

Nawaz Sharif Disqualified

Culture of Corruption in Pakistan

US Investigating Microsoft Bribery in Pakistan

Zardari's Corruption Probe in Switzerland

Politics of Patronage in Pakistan


Ali said...

No doubt both are extremely corrupt and have a lot in common.

This is a top notch analysis.

Habibullah said...

Both of them are basically businessmen first and politicians later!

Anonymous said...

Buying Trump’s narrative would make chumps of us all

By Ruth Marcus
Deputy editorial page editor, columnist
May 4

We’re missing something important, indeed fundamental, in all the legal-political chatter about whether President Trump will answer questions from the special counsel and what might happen if he refuses.

We need to keep in mind: This is the president, not an ordinary witness — or, to be more precise, ordinary...

Sikandar said...

Good analysis. Both are deplorable. I heard a good phrase from a very respectable Pakistani analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi. He was on a talk show on ARY this week. He said and I paraphrase, "Democracy that does not improve the lot of the people is not democracy. Call it whatever, but it is not democracy."

At least Trump in his own way is trying to serve the people who elected him. The same cannot be said about Nawaz, who became a billionaire as a result of his "democratic" conquests.

Mayraj said...

Riaz Haq forgot the involvement of family members by both, including son-in-laws.

The main difference is that one is still holding office and the other is not. In that way, Pakistan's system has an edge over the US.

In the case of Trump, he has been riding the high horse with a zillion people gunning for him, be is still able to do virtually everything he wants and can, while people watch. They may criticize, investigate but all that they can do is watch. Mueller has collected all the evidence and indicted related people. There is no doubt of the Russian intervention on the US (s)election, but there he blazing away saying and doing everything he wants, with nobody and nothing to stop him. No human being in history has been in the news as consistently as Trump.

Where Nawaz gets an A+ is for resilience. Despite being the first man in history to be a PM three times and each time his tenure has been aborted, age, Panama nothing has mellowed him down. In fact, he is more articulated when he is not in office than when he is. I doubt whether he will ever give up.

Ahmad F. said...

Professor Rizvi is a good friend of mine. He has written widely on civil-military relations in Pakistan and was the chairman of the political science department at Punjab University. He also taught at Columbia University for three years, as part of an exchange program.

He is entitled to make his comments on democracy in Pakistan. But I can assure you the views he has expressed are not in accord with those of the majority of learned writers on Pakistan. They view Sharif's dismissal as a travesty of the rule of law in Pakistan.

Rizvi's comment is an idealized comment in the Aristotle-Plato vein. Most democracies in the world have issues, many don't improve the welfare of their people. But they are still called democracies. So his statement should not be taken as being the gospel truth.

He is best known for his critique of military rule. And the Pakistan army hates him. He is their ultimate critic. They could not fire him from the chairmanship of the university so they turned off the heater in his office. At some point he simply resigned in disgust.

He reviewed my book on Pakistan's national security and totally agreed with my recommendations.

ZAB had a sterling opportunity to restore true democracy in Pakistan. We all know what he did. Here is my take on Bhutto's own website (why they posted it I don't know)

Yahya held genuinely fair elections in Pakistan but did not hand over power to the party that won an absolute majority. And then he plunged the country into a Civil War which resulted in the death of Jinnah's miraculous creation.

Ayub thought the people of Pakistan would not be ready for real democracy for another "two generations." He was the savior that God had destined for the Islamic Republic. So he rigged the elections and defeated Jinnah's sister. He did not win even using his bastardized definition of Basic Democracy. He brought ethnic tensions to Karachi, the largest city, and moved the capital closer to his hometown where one day the Number One terrorist would be found hiding and killed in an operation that disgraced the entire country.

That was not enough. He he plunged the country into war with India, under guidance from his upstart foreign minister, and gained nothing in Kashmir and came close to losing the war.

Zia ruled unopposed for more than a decade and claimed he had seized power to give genuine democracy to the country.

We all know the ruin Musharraf imposed on democracy in Pakistan.

Many of us are now engaging in an orgy over Sharif's dismissal. He is gone. Congrats! But please get over it. Its like Trump keeps on telling us he won the elections.

Old news, guys. Please share your views bout the future. When are the elections? Who are you supporting and why?

And tell me why is Pakistan fated to suffer, regardless of who rules? Is this a divine sanction? The more you suffer, we are told every Friday, the higher the place you will get in heaven.

Now we will be reminded by my learned friend that Pakistan is doing very well, that it is India which is suffering, and I have got it all wrong.

I will pause and wait for that oration.

Riaz Haq said...

Ahmad: " He (Hasan Askari Rizvi) is entitled to make his comments on democracy in Pakistan. But I can assure you the views he has expressed are not in accord with those of the majority of learned writers on Pakistan. They view Sharif's dismissal as a travesty of the rule of law in Pakistan."

You buy Sharif's conspiracy theories regardless of the evidence against him, just as Trump supporters believe all the conspiracy theories he spins to deflect attention from serious allegations against his campaign.

This shows how successful the two leaders are in politicizing the situations in their attempts to retain political support.

Ahmad F. said...

There is no doubt who carried out the Mumbai attacks and several Pakistanis, including General Shuja Pasha, the former head of the ISI, have attested to that. So it is not a question of buying Sharif's conspiracy theories. The facts are there for everyone to see.

Masood said...

Making Sharif accountable was a good start by the Judiciary but their selective justice has raised many questions about their motives.

Especially since Zardari has been declared Saadiq and Ameen by the same judiciary.
He is de facto leader of the Senate and with hung parliament, he might also form the next government. Sounds improbable? It also did before he came into power first time around. No hidden hand or third umpire interfered to end his corrupt and inept regime. Those were wasted five years for the country.

This is not conspiracy. It is happening in front of our eyes.

Riaz Haq said...

Ahmad: "There is no doubt who carried out the Mumbai attacks and several Pakistanis, including General Shuja Pasha, the former head of the ISI, have attested to that. So it is not a question of buying Sharif's conspiracy theories. The facts are there for everyone to see."

There's zero evidence linking ISI with Mumbai.

Besides, it has nothing to do with Sharif's lying and money laundering trial. He raises these issues as a distraction to change the topic and you fall for it

Riaz Haq said...

Masood: "Especially since Zardari has been declared Saadiq and Ameen by the same judiciary. "

I am not aware of any judicial verdicts declaring Zardari "sadiq" or "ameen". He's not even a member of parliament nor does he hold any public office where the sadiq/amin requirement applies.

In any event, all justice in the world in selective. You see it everyday when some people get pulled up for speeding while others are not.

There's a thing called "prosecutorial discretion" where prosecutors have to routinely select who to prosecute and who to let go simply because they lack the resources to prosecute everybody.

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan Among Top 10 Countries Losing Most #Tax Revenues. #India #China #Indonesia #Japan #Germany via @YouTube

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan #NAB Recovers US$1.3 Million from Corruption Suspect Ahad Cheema , ex head of #Lahore Development Authority #Punjab. #PMLN … via @OCCRP

Pakistan's anti-graft authorities recovered on Monday Rs 15 million (US$1.3 million) and a luxurious Toyota Landcruiser from the former head of the Lahore Development Authority, Ahad Cheema, in the eastern city of Lahore.

Cheema was arrested in February under suspicion of misusing his authority and corruption involving a housing project. The case is known as the Ashiana Housing scam, a project of the Punjab government.

Cheema was arrested by National Accountability Bureau, NAB, officials after he failed to respond to two notices they had sent him.

Investigators claim they collected significant evidence of Cheema's involvement in the corruption and illegal allotment of land.

Cheema allegedly received land worth Rs 30 million (US$260,000) from the owners of the firm associated with the housing scheme.

He remained in NAB custody for three months and has been sent to jail for judicial remand on court orders.

NAB opened the investigation last November after receiving several complaints over an ‘illegal deal’ involving acres of land between the Punjab Land Development Company — a government owned company — and some private firms.

Corruption in Pakistan is rampant and the country is listed as one of the most corrupt in the world. Transparency Internationals 2017 Corruption Perception Index ranks it 116 out of 180 countries.

Riaz Haq said...

Election Act 2017 has removed all electoral nomination form entries requiring disclosure of assets by candidates and their family members as well as other questions related to unpaid bank loans, loan defaults, income tax payments, educational qualifications and criminal records.

It’s intended to avoid public scrutiny and possible challenges under article 62 and 63.

The law was passed after Nawaz Sharif’s and Jahangir Tareen’s disqualification

Riaz Haq said...

Jason Chaffetz: The Deep State is real – I've seen it up close and it's far worse than you can imagine

With each successive batch of text messages released between then-FBI agent Peter Strzok and then-FBI lawyer Lisa Page, the evidence supporting a politically motivated Deep State within the federal government spills out into the open.

Based on my own experience, this particular set of text messages is the tip of the iceberg. While serving on the House Oversight Committee, I saw firsthand how those in control of our bureaucracy brazenly abuse their power – spying, manipulating and misleading – in an effort to perpetuate their stranglehold on the government.


My first run-in with the Deep State happened weeks after the Benghazi terrorist attacks of September 11, 2012. In an encounter highlighted in my book, I went face-to-face with a lawyer sent to Libya by Hillary Clinton’s State Department to act as a spy and ensure I did not ever get to the truth of what happened on that tragic night.

When I refused to allow this State Department lawyer to participate in a briefing for which his security clearance was insufficient, he immediately called Clinton Chief of Staff and fixer Cheryl Mills to demand entrance to the meeting. His real purpose was to intimidate witnesses from being candid with a congressman.

I won that battle and got the information I sought. But the effort to speak to witnesses, review documents, and debunk the ridiculous and false narratives told by political appointees and perpetuated by their Deep State allies was an uphill battle.

Even with a select congressional committee empaneled to investigate, Congress was never able to pry from the Deep State many of the documents that would have confirmed or refuted the damning testimony of Benghazi’s heroes.

Spying is just one trick up the sleeves of politicized bureaucrats. Powerful senior staffers with authority to classify, resist disclosure, and subvert oversight have perfected other strategies to avoid transparency and accountability.

The Deep State manipulates congressional investigations by pretending to cooperate with document subpoenas. Those who are part of the Deep State bury congressional committees in piles of paper ostensibly responsive to the investigation, and then brag to the media about the number of pages they have turned over.

In reality, many of those pages will either be fully redacted, duplicates of other pages, or irrelevant to the investigation.

The media then dutifully report that the agency has turned over thousands of pages – yet the public gets no answers. Meanwhile, the documents that would actually tell the American people the truth never see the light of day.

Misleading the public about the nature of documents sought either by Congress or through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests is another art the Deep State has perfected. Agencies employ lawyers specifically to find reasons to withhold documents.

In one May 2014 hearing, a TSA sensitive security information director testified that upon being hired, attorneys and FOIA processors trained him to hide information.

The director testified that he was told: “If you come across embarrassing information or whatever, (the chief counsel) will just hide it and come up with an exemption; because if you cover it with a FOIA exemption it’s so hard for the other person to challenge it, and it will be costly and difficult for them to challenge it, and they’re probably never going to see it anyway, so you just get away with it. That’s the way it’s done.”

There are solutions, which I outline in my book. But before we can address solutions, we have to acknowledge the problem.

The Deep State is not just a conspiracy theory. No less than our very system of separation of powers and checks and balances is at stake.