For most of us in Pakistan, April 20, 2017 may not be of much significance. But this day will surely go down in history. Those who will read or write the judicial history of Pakistan will miss or omit this date only at a great peril.
For some people, our posterity will be amused by the political sitcom that was staged to serve justice in the larger interest of democracy. One analyst sarcastically argues that “credit goes to prime minister for his firm and unflinching commitment to stay in power. This is what it takes in Pakistan to be a successful politician and our prime minister has proved it quite efficiently…and you dare not to question his infallibility as a democrat”.
An ecstatic lawyer from the pro-PML-N camp asserts that “if the top lawmen of this country attested his infallibility in their ruling of April 20, there is no reason for laymen to be sceptical or feel [envious of] his legitimate wealth. The enemies of [the] prime minister are the enemies of democracy and they risk contempt of court [for] being critical of the verdict of honourable court on [the] Panama leaks.”
All the above arguments for and against the verdict hold water. But they fall short of encouraging an insightful debate about the larger issues of politics and democracy. The verdict must be seen in the larger context of our political history and should not be distorted to gain political mileage and settle scores. We have a political history full of examples of how our legal system was exploited to either topple or execute elected prime ministers – who knows this better than the leaders of the PPP.
Some of the historic remarks made by Justice Asif Khosa in his part of the judgment against the prime minister remained largely unread at politically-charged press conferences organised by the opposition parties. His judgment was numerically less significant in making an impact to disqualify the prime minister. But it has made history for sure.
Fortunately, the hype created by the media around the Panama case has gone without creating much commotion of what we were made to believe about the impending political upheavals across the country.
Even our claimant of new Pakistan, the cricketer-turned-politician believes that the poor are hungry, naked and corruptible and, therefore, the rich must rule the country. Nawaz Sharif has all the credentials to be a part of the rich segments of society that Imran Khan is referring to. Why should he be ousted for the sake of the poor of Pakistan? Imran Khan is a full package of contradictions and inconsistencies and his obsessive anti-Nawaz narrative is losing its popular charm. While it is good to be an advocate of anti-corruption, it is equally important to develop a counter-political narrative and a long-term strategy beyond the persona of Nawaz Sharif.
Imran Khan needs to give a serious thought to broadening his strategy for political transformation. He should trust the tremendous potential of the poor to fuel a transformation. Imran Khan and his political coterie were caught in an uncanny situation when their struggle to oust a sitting prime minster did not materialise.
The sensational and acrimonious debate that has emerged in the media around the Panama leaks has put the prime minister in the crosshairs while the larger issues of democracy and justice have received little attention. The Supreme Court’s judgment is historic because it neither surrenders to popular sentiments nor panders to the temptations of the rich and powerful. Instead of riding the rhapsody of media sensationalism, we must read the details of judgment, particularly the 192 pages penned by Justice Khosa.
Justice may have been delayed, but it has not been denied as the judges were under tremendous pressure. They have been able to uphold the supremacy of the law to take its own course rather than succumbing to the heroics of popular fame and the good books of the power corridor. Justice delayed with tactics is not always equal to justice denied.
Our political leaders must learn to rise above their petty fights to strengthen democracy. No one would have expected such a verdict if the country was ruled by a non-civilian and undemocratic chief executive. Democracy certainly has a dividend and we have an opportunity to cultivate the civic sense that nobody is above the law. We can then stop the sanguinary that we recently experienced in Mardan. Poor Mashal Khan was the victim of decades of defiance to abide by the law for our short-term gains.
The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.