Panama Leaks: cyber war fare by Abdul Q Kundi

Superpowers for ages have used various tools to exert their influence on the affairs of neighbors far and wide. East and West India companies were non-state actors used by imperial powers to seek trading rights to gain foothold in countries that were later converted into colonies. Trading was the soft power that created enabling environment that paved way for colonization through hard power. In the modern era new tools have emerged that are used by superpowers. In Libya, Syria and Ukraine there is extensive use of hard power by non-state actors supported by these powers. In other countries intervention is made through soft power using social media and leaks. WikiLeaks and Panama Papers are part of this cyber war fare employed by non-state actors. In both these leaks there seems to be a particular pattern targeting select countries to put public pressure on governments.

Panama Leaks has rattled many governments but no one seems to be asking who made these leaks and why they have acquired so much significance despite a disclosure that they are not suggesting that any illegal act is being committed. Mossack Fonseca is a corporation providing legal services to clients around the world. Their servers were breached and their communication with clients was hacked by someone. In other words a cybercrime was committed against a corporation. USA has been blaming China and Russia of committing cyber espionage against its government and corporate interest. USA would be raising hue and cry if similar hack was committed against General Electric or Apple but in case of Mossack Fonseca there is complete silence on their part. Another thing to note here is that ICIJ used documents from a source whose identity is possibly known to the newspaper that shared it. But an ethical route would have been to inform Mossack Fonseca that their corporate information is being made available and seek their comment on it. Apparently no such effort was made because the company in its statement claimed that they have been target of a hack. This means that it was not a job of a whistle blower but rather an outside breach of its servers. The first question the ICIJ should have explored who committed this hack but strangely they seem to be only interested in people mentioned rather than help with the cybercrime committed against Mossack Fonseca. This could mean someone had political interests in disclosure of these documents. Another thing we have to keep in mind that there may be more leaks that are timed for maximum impact. This cyber war combined with social media propaganda is producing anarchy around the world.

Now let’s look at the countries that are affected. United Kingdom, Ukraine, Russia, China, Iceland, Pakistan, Argentina and Middle East are most affected from these papers. There seems to be a trend similar to Wikileaks. It is hard to predict what the objectives of the leaker were but we can build some scenarios. Interestingly USA has been largely unaffected by both WikiLeaks and Panama Leaks. One scenario projected by Russia and China is that the objective of the leaks is to damage their interests and undermine their regimes. In my view China is more affected than Russia. First its top leadership is directly implicated in the establishment of off shore companies with the suggestion that the purpose was to park ill-gotten wealth. On the other hand Russian President Putin is indirectly implicated which will have minimum effect on his political fortunes. Panama leaks have impacted UK Prime Minister David Cameron who has become quite close to China. A recent Foreign Policy article has suggested that UK has become one of the largest recipient of Chinese investment as well as home to European headquarters of her large state enterprises. David Cameron also decided to become founding member of Asia Infrastructure Bank (AIIB) set up by China despite USA pressure to withhold from it.

UAE and Saudi Arabia has so far been unaffected by the Arab Spring and have moved towards China after US signing of nuclear deal with Iran. The leaked papers put pressure on these monarchies and could incite social unrest.

Pakistan forms corner stone of China’s one belt and one road (OBOR) initiative. The relationship was strengthened during the tenure of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) but developed into a tangible projects by PML N in the form of CPEC. Other than that Pakistan and China have come closer on other regional and international issues including Afghanistan and Middle East. Traditionally military rulers have been closer to USA than China. Undermining a democratic government could change the international chess board.

Now let’s look at how opposition parties have used these Panama Papers in Pakistan. As usual there is no united opposition to pressure the government. There are many members of PPP mentioned in Panama Papers so they may not be too interested in pursuing it other than superficially for public consumption. Smaller parties Jamat e Islami, JUI F and ANP seems to either have no support or not interested in this issue. Pakistan Tehrike Insaf (PTI) is as usual resorting to street protests rather than engage in smart politics. I doubt if their protests will succeed as party has lost support of people and image of Imran Khan is badly damaged in last three years because of failed dharna and judicial commission. Let’s suppose they succeed and PM resigns under pressure it will produce two possible outcomes. First it could pave the way for another military general which will be the biggest disaster faced by the nation and could weaken the state to the point of breaking down. Second could be that a new elections are held and these same parties come back to parliament. How does that change anything in terms of good governance or containment of corruption? Nothing so it will be all for naught.

A better approach would be to ask FIA to investigate all people named in the Panama Leaks to find out if any illegal means were used in formation and funding of these companies. All those against whom evidence is found should be prosecuted. A parliamentary committee should be formed to review legislation about tax evasion and off shore companies. The committee should recommend amendments if needed. This will at least help create structural changes that are need to prevent leakage of our national resources through corruption.

All political parties in Pakistan are controlled by elites of the country who are not interested in any real change. They are usually engaged in game of thrones rather than to improve lives of people. These parties need to be reformed through better regulation by Election Commission of Pakistan. Party activists have to also take interest in holding their leadership accountable and pressure them to allow better leadership to emerge from grass roots rather than continue appointing their loyalists and financiers.

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