How a Type of Computer Font Led to the Removal of Pakistan’s Prime Minister

The plan seemed fairly certain. Take hundreds of millions from the Government, launder it through a labyrinth of international real estate deals, and let the money rest there, hidden behind names and companies, almost untraceable. This, of course, was unveiled some time ago with the leak of the Panama Papers, a 11 Million documents that revealed thousands of elite around the world involved in plainly unethical, and almost everywhere illegal, activity. I guess it may not be that simple, but it is par the course for men like Pakistan’s Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif. In fact, while this leak revealed the involvement of many, the list of those held accountable for it is not that long. So where did Prime Minister Sharif go wrong?

The Panama Papers revealed many properties linked to Prime Minister Sharif’s family, so when questioned, Sharif responded by arguing that the properties, while holding a large amount of money for him and his family, were a legitimate corruption, rather than an illegal one. To prove his innocence, the Prime Minister provided documents establishing these businesses as legitimate enough to trouble any attempt to oust him from his seat of power. However, in their forgery, Sharif and his associates used the default font of Microsoft’s Word, Calibri. Calibri, a font produced by Microsoft  to be a modern Times New Roman for easier computer screen reading, was first made available in 2007. The documents supposedly certified establishing these businesses, however, that used the Calibri font, was from 2003. It’s equivalent to handing me a print out of this post and telling me that paper is an artifact from the 1920s. It’s ludicrous, and it was enough to remove the Prime Minister from office for the third time.

To be sure, Pakistan is an incredibly complex, diverse country with a long history of factions and motivations that I cannot summarize here, for both lack of space and knowledge. Prime Minister Sharif has his enemies, other politicians and institutions who have been trying to unseat him for some time. While some democracies rely on voting to oust leaders from office, it is not uncommon in Pakistan for opposition to try to use other, less democratic mechanisms to remove politicians from office.

While you may think this is a sign of the system working,as it should in any normal circumstance, Amanda Taub and Max Fisher note in the New York Times that this more a tool of corruption of other officials, risking making Pakistan a less democratic society.

But where some see democracy’s triumph, others see its corruption into just another tool for the powerful to subvert public will and the rule of law.

The court avoided other officials implicated in the scandal, deepening suspicion that its singling out of Mr. Sharif was opportunistic. The vastly powerful military, whether by luck or design, once again stood to benefit as its rival lost power. Normally, timid watchdogs acted under enormous pressure from Mr. Sharif’s rivals.

The episode is a lesson in how countries like Pakistan — with weak elected institutions and histories of repeated backsliding and breaks in civilian control — can get stuck in a gray zone between dictatorship and democracy.

In such a system, even steps like Mr. Sharif’s removal, which nominally reinforce accountability and the rule of law, can deepen decidedly undemocratic norms.

Though justice prevailed, so did perceptions that it is applied selectively. Though corruption was punished, so was, in the eyes of many of Mr. Sharif’s supporters, defiance of the military.


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