Sunday October 02, 2022

Managing a controversy

August 04, 2017

Controversies may emerge from conflict of ideas or conflict of interests or from a combination of both. If left unmanaged, real controversies tend to reduce the cumulative gains of all concerned parties in the long run. Interestingly, the total value gained by parties in the conflict can be maximized through a paradoxical solution: co-opetition. This means that the parties mutually agree on where and when to compete and where and when to collaborate. Arbitration by a third party is another way of managing a controversy but it tends to be less optimal because the parties have to surrender their right to stipulate their most favored terms.

Political controversies are a special case because they tend to polarise the participants, incite emotions, and may lead to the mutual destruction of participants as well as non-partisan stakeholders. 

The nation seems to be facing another historic political controversy that is bound to weaken Pakistan even further. This controversy has emerged from the disqualification of yet another elected prime minister of Pakistan by the Supreme Court under Article 62(1)(f) for “having failed to disclose his un-withdrawn receivables constituting assets from Capital FZE Jebel Ali, UAE in his nomination papers filed for the General Elections held in 2013.” The most interesting (and perhaps most dangerous) aspect of this controversy is the fact that it has emerged from a platform which is entrusted with the supreme authority and responsibility to settle such issues. Unfortunately, the conviction handed down to NS provides ample reasons to all parties in the controversy to make a plausible case to promote their respective interests, and hence a continuous fueling of the controversy.

The most obvious arguments of the winners may include: (i) the judgment has come from the Supreme Court of the country which is the most impartial institution whose authority to adjudicate is supreme; (ii) the judgment has been given unanimously by a bench of the most senior judges of the court whose integrity is beyond doubt; (iii) the bench was assisted by a special joint investigation team (JIT) which included the representatives of the most important agencies of the country; (iv) the JIT accomplished the task of a thorough investigation under the direct supervision of the concerned judges and collected voluminous evidence using the resources of all relevant institutions of the country; (v) the judgment is based on the findings of the JIT which included the discovery of employment of NS in Capital FZE as one of the most obvious offences relevant to Article 62(1)(f); (vi) the conviction is also based on an admitted fact concerning obligatory declaration of assets before the election; and (vii) the definition of “asset” used is quite lawful in the case, for at least it has been taken Black’s Law Dictionary.

In ordinary circumstances, the first two arguments suffice to nip a controversy in the bud but this case was extraordinary for obvious reasons. The losers and their supporters have the motive, opportunity, and the will to build an argument by using the ammunition provided by the judgment itself.

Their arguments may include the following obvious assertions: (i) the case was founded on the Panama leaks but the judgment is based on the iqama leaks, (ii) the case was about corruption (being ameen) but the judment has been twisted to include truthfulness (being sadiq), (iii) despite the postmortem of three generations of dealings of Sharif family and three tenures of NS as PM, the JIT and the bench could not find a single bit of proof of corruption committed by him, proving that he is really ameen, (iv) the fact that the judgment is based on a petty and honest omission rather than anything from the mountain of allegations of mega corruption indicates conspiracy, (v) the conspiracy is also indicated by the fact that the intelligence arms of the establishment were made an integral part of the JIT, (vi) the conspiracy is indicated by the fact that the judges directly supervised the JIT and have also sought to directly supervise the consequent references by the NAB, (vi) the conspiracy is also indicated by the fact that only the Sharif family has been singled out from Panama the leaks, (vii) that this conspiracy is meant to punish NS for not supplying enough help to KSA and the UAE in their military alliance despite all their favors they have bestowed on him so far whereas we have contributed our recently retired army chief to the coalition.

The proof of their arguments they provide in the form of revelations of a conspiracy by an ex-president of the PTI. The conclusion: the conviction of NS does not show justice (insaaf) but clearly indicates fulfilment of the undemocratic wishes of the PTI. This debate can go on and on.

The controversy also provides ample opportunities to commentators and analysts to contribute feeding it to the public. They can fuel the controversy by highlighting the critical constraints and levers of the winning and losing sides. Besides, similar cases of some politicians in the winners’ camp are also before the Supreme Court. These cases have the potential to change the scenario from the current win-lose to a lose-lose situation. After all, justice also needs to be seen as being done.

It is also likely that the losers begin to open the closets of others inside and outside the political class. For instance, there is a lot of room in Articles 62/63, ranging from conformity to the injunctions of Islam to being a loan shark, to ensnare almost every living politician in Pakistan. Similarly, ‘goodwill’ as an asset as part of the quoted definition in the judgment may also serve as the Sword of Damocles for politicians because, after all, it is one of the most important assets in the accounting and business world.

What makes the controversy even more interesting is the fact that one does not need to be an expert of law or jurisprudence to participate in it. Anyone anywhere, from an ordinary kiosk to parliament, can rightfully and meaningfully participate in the discussion of its past, present, and future – hence a maddening cacophony all around. There is hardly any escape from it.

The controversy has the potential of seeping deep into the roots of national harmony and omens huge destruction in the long run – politically, economically, and diplomatically. We cannot afford to further deepen the crisis of credibility at the level of individual institutions as well as at the national level.

Given the nature of changes in the political winds in Washington and our region as well, we can ill-afford such controversies that can undermine the professional capability and credibility of our institutions. Therefore, there is a need to manage this controversy before it turns into a hurricane and drags in all institutions. Finally, if any silver lining can be found in this controversy, it has everything to do with learning. Students of logic and reasoning can use this indigenous controversy as a case study for a long time.


The writer is assistant professor of strategy and innovation at SDSB, Lahore University of Management Sciences, Lahore. Twitter: @drmdshafique