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Opinion

June 26, 2017

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The politics of the JIT

The politics of the JIT

First they couldn’t figure out in whose favour the judges had ruled in the Panama Leaks case and both parties ended up celebrating wildly the verdict of a 3-2 split; where two judges felt that the prime minister indeed had behaved slovenly in the conduct of his office and needed to be summarily de-seated. The other three wanted him investigated more before they made up their mind. But to the PM’s cabal it was reason enough to sound the bugles of victory.

The split led to the court forming an investigation team composed of members from departments with expertise in financial crimes, adding in the MI and ISI for what can be termed as a feel-good effect – literally saying ‘with them around keep assured that the investigation will proceed unhindered from government influence’. But trust those for whom the military is fair game – and that has of late sadly included the government itself. Questions began to be raised soon on why the military was included at all to hold the civilian-politico stream accountable.

I would gladly second that for it will only enable sullying military’s name by any or all if things weren’t seen going their way. This is exactly what has happened. The JIT in popular discourse is now conveniently projected as the second face of the military. It would have been better to keep out of the snake-pit. The judges put the military in for credibility of the process which they wanted conducted without a blemish. But to some it amounted to challenging civilian fidelity – which itself happened to be under investigation. Such are the perceptions of impropriety lacing our socio-political landscape that society sadly stands ruptured between the more vocal intelligentsia and the remaining. That has helped efforts by the PML-N to fuel the controversy further. If you can’t control the result, manipulate the process.

An old story of our accountability arms in the government is how they reel before the government of the day. The only people they will ever investigate with any passion are sure to belong to the opposition. It serves no purpose repeating the entire litany of comments by the court on these aspects. The reality is deeply entrenched and widely known. But the urge to pretensions is fuelled by invoking institutional disharmony, making it appear farcical and absurd. I once said that the civ-mil is so deep a sham in this country and so complete a subterfuge that a lot could simply be lost in its folds. But let me stop here; this piece is not about civil-military imbalance.

So how did it start after the initial euphoria was over and some puritans had pointed to a couple of khakis on the team? Relatively quietly. But then as the work went along there were new noises about two more members, both experts in financial forensics – one with previous experience of investigating Sharif finances under NAB. It is only surmised that as one after the other member of the Sharif clan presented themselves at the inquiry they also sensed the direction that it was taking. No more a ‘slam dunk’, it was turning testy. That is when constitutional exemption for the executive was first loudly thought of – misread; and then a growing din of bias which alternately was meant to pull both the PTI and the military in per the occasion, establishing an insidious linkage between them against the Sharifs.

This was followed by insinuations related to the release of an investigation photo – bad move – and then another which tended to question the intent of the SC by inducting members of choice; a foolish interpretation since that is exactly what the SC would have required to investigate an event of such importance – the absolute best it could find to form an inquiry committee. That it is still an investigation which will have to stand the test of judicial scrutiny in an adversarial case has also been lost in this mad melee of allegations. 

The coming days will test us even more on this route to zeroing on what seems an alleged misdeed. Attacking the Supreme Court isn’t feasible any longer, nor may the judiciary oblige as before, and neither is the military keen to jump into a mess that seems insurmountable. What then is the apprehension which triggers such mayhem? A past? Or a lack of faith in the constitution? Nations will go back to the people when all seems so impossible to resolve. It is patently democratic and constitutional to do so. Even if the party in power are reluctant to go the route, we as a nation must seek such recourse.

The JIT will report to the bench and either suggest nothing new – the bench will then decide whether any one of them feels as bad as the previous two blaming the PM for failing to clear his name despite the opportunity and weigh in with those ordering his removal. Or the JIT will say they have evidence either confirming what is suspected, or one which denies the assumption of a misdeed in which case the bench shall happily recess while retaining its 3-2 judgment in favour of the government.

Justice must be served, and the Heavens are unlikely to fall. Leaders resign, or die, or lose, and new ones take their place. Nations survive such upheavals continually, and some come out even better on the other side. In the end, it all works if permitted to resolve itself. The solutions lie in following the constitution which if exercised in the interest of the people will always find their patronage. If, however, used as a cover to safeguard the interests of the elite, hardly a voice is raised when it gets put aside. We are once again at that point of our national journey when we must make this choice. Early elections are a constitutional provision and a bona fide political course. We shouldn’t hesitate to go that route if the esteemed bench considers the PM guilty or so considerably sullied as to have lost the necessary moral authority.

If we fail to live up to the ideals of even qualified justice, our faith in society and in the state will simply evaporate. Nations seeped in mistrust rapidly lose their moorings. And a lost society is far from its destiny of a nation.

There will always be the implicit detail on whether the SC can be a trial court; under 184(3) it can when all other options seem to have become frivolous. Or whether the right of appeal against a conviction remains the single-most touchstone of justice. When such a case happens to involve the PM and his government, it better lead to a recourse to the people. They are the ultimate arbiter. The courts only help break the logjam. 

 

Email: [email protected]

 

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