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June 19, 2017



A glorious day?

History was not made at the Judicial Academy on Thursday; it was merely repeated. The prime minister’s ‘interview’ by the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) is yet another proof that those who don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it.


While whining about the conduct of JIT members, the PML-N’s spin doctors have tried to present Nawaz Sharif’s ‘peshi’ as a historic milestone in Pakistan’s democratic development. According to the ruling party, it was the first time a sitting prime minister presented himself before a team of investigators and submitted himself to rule of law. At the same time, they have tried to revive the narrative of the persecution of elected prime ministers at the hands of anti-democratic forces.

The PM’s son, Hussain Nawaz, who appeared before the JIT five times, stated that from Suharwardy’s time (1956-1957) until today, politicians have faced persecution. Musaddiq Malik, the PM’s spokesperson tweeted: “PML-N government has reservation on JIT’s investigation procedure. Members of JIT should follow procedure set by the SC to ensure transparency…”

The prime minister himself adopted a defiant posture at the end of the three-hour long interview and hinted at a conspiracy against democracy. He spoke of the larger JIT of people and stated that the days of puppeteering were over. The JIT and the government have traded barbs in the media and in the Supreme Court. The JIT has accused government institutions of tampering records; it has claimed that the PM House is tutoring witnesses and that the government is creating hurdles in the process of the investigation. The government, on its part, has blamed the JIT of pressuring witnesses to find an approver and using illegal means such as phone tapping and monitoring of witnesses.

While the political movement and the legal case over the Panama Papers were initiated by the PTI, all political parties in opposition have put their weight behind the JIT. They are supporting the JIT even over the most controversial aspects like the leaking of Hussain Nawaz’s photo taken during the investigation process and the JIT’s clumsy efforts at media monitoring. They are smelling blood and see an opportunity to dislodge a party from government that was set to win another election in 2018. For the PPP, it is a chance to avenge the humiliation it has faced during the last two years at the hands of the federal government.

The prime minister and his associates may put on a brave face and give it a positive twist but there is no glory in facing charges of corruption or money laundering at any forum. Having squandered all earlier opportunities, the PM had no option but to submit himself and his family members to the humiliating process. This is not good news for democracy either. An extraordinary arrangement like the current JIT does not strengthen democracy; nor does it pave the way for future accountability. It only shows the failure of relevant institutions to do their work and throws an element of unpredictability in the system, which is good neither for democracy nor the economy.

The prime minister might have thought for a moment that the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) promulgated by the Musharraf government as a result of an agreement with Benazir Bhutto might have provided him some safety at this stage.

Passed in October 2007, the NRO had granted amnesty to all politicians charged with misconduct between 1986 and 1999. The ordinance opened the door for Benazir to return to Pakistan and also made it possible for Nawaz Sharif to follow her to the country.

However, the PML-N opposed the ordinance tooth and nail. Two years later, the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional and set aside all benefits accrued (to politicians) under the controversial law. The ordinance brought a bad name to the PPP government and landed its leaders back into the court room. However, not a single case has resulted in conviction in the last eight years though huge monetary resources, institutional energies and national attention were spent on the legal process. Some of the ‘NRO cases’ are now haunting Sharifs and they may have to face their share of humiliation before the legal process reaches a logical conclusion.

Many objections regarding the ill-fated legislation were well placed. However, such a law was needed for a new beginning in Pakistan’s politics which has remained mired in the past. Rather than acting like statesmen with their sights set on the future, our politicians have acted like bad historians who have read nothing but our Urdu newspapers. While opposing the law, the PML-N was confident that the judiciary would forever remain favourable to it and inimical to the PPP.

Four months before the NRO, Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto signed the historic Charter of Democracy. Besides other things, the two parties agreed to set up an independent accountability commission. They committed to “...replace [the] politically motivated NAB with an independent accountability commission, whose chairman shall be nominated by the prime minister in consultation with the leader of opposition and confirmed by a joint parliamentary committee with 50 percent members from treasury benches and remaining 50 percent from opposition parties in same manner as appointment of judges through transparent public hearing. The confirmed nominee shall meet the standard of political impartiality, judicial propriety, moderate views expressed through his judgements....”

While many clauses of the CoD were activated through the 18th Amendment to the constitution, the new accountability commission has remained a pipedream. In the absence of such an impartial institution, other institutions including NAB, SECP, FBR and the State Bank failed to do their work and the case landed in the final court of appeal through 184 (3) – not the best mechanism to deal with such cases.

Rather than reforming the police and other institutions responsible for investigation, both federal and provincial governments have increasingly relied on such mechanisms as the JIT. The PML-N has questioned the role of members of the JIT belonging to MI and ISI – a pertinent question it should have asked many months ago when PPP leaders in Sindh were handed over to JITs.

The leaking of Hussain Nawaz’s picture is deplorable but again the PML-N is being forced to taste the medicine it delivered to the PPP in Sindh. After all, what makes Hussain Nawaz more respectable than Dr Asim Hussain? Dr Asim is a senior professional double his age who belongs to the family of a founding father and heads the Higher Education Commission. Before any accusations are proved against him, he is as guilty or innocent as Hussain Nawaz and we know how he has been treated, how the interior minister gloated over his grilling and how videos of his investigation by a JIT were leaked.

The Panama case cannot take us to a more democratic or just society because nobody is looking for justice from this case. For the last four years, the PTI was hell bent on pulling down Nawaz Sharif’s government on one excuse or other, and the Panama Papers may provide the tabdeeli (change) it wanted. However, forced out in this way, the PML-N will be far more troublesome than the PTI and the theatre, in all likelihood, will go on. When puppets are so eager to dance and wrestle, how can puppeteers go out of business?


The writer is an anthropologist and development professional.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @zaighamkhan