Awaiting the climax


Awaiting the climax

Ayaz Amir

Nothing else matters. Everything else is of secondary importance. The nation, or its political class, is holding its breath for one thing alone—the decision in the Panama case. When is it coming? And what will it be?

Pakistan’s immediate future does not depend upon CPEC, the situation in Afghanistan or relations with India. Determining the future will be this case, provided—and this is a big proviso—it’s a clear decision and there’s no fudging of the main issue: the allegations against the Sharif family.

 Nawaz Sharif and his stable of brilliant lawyers have been able to explain nothing. Their entire defence hinges upon the letters from Qatar…nothing, absolutely nothing beyond them. The bench hearing this case…everyone swears to its independence and integrity. So the question takes on an added urgency: what is the decision going to be?

Some people were first heard saying it would come out on March 15, the Ides of March. That date passed and it was said that their lordships did not want to spoil the national mood on Pakistan Day, March 23…although, to my way of thinking, it would have been a Pakistan Day to remember, and commemorate in the history books, if the decision had come before it.

But perhaps people like me are being wishful and presuming too much—presuming that the decision would be no less of a thunderbolt than the original Panama revelations and that when it comes it would shake the country’s foundations.

Wishful or not, there’s no minimizing what is at stake. Either Nawaz Sharif goes scot free by getting if not a clean bill of health at least a partial validation. Or the court expresses grave doubts about his conduct and prevarications…in which case the road to his disqualification lies open. It could be as devastating as that. If this were to happen the PML-N would be badly shaken, and then anything could happen.

This is the hopeful or the optimistic scenario. The other possibility of course is that the PM is rapped on the knuckles and that is all, just a mild, innocuous admonition with no legal consequences…in which case the PM spends the rest of the year cutting ribbons and opening development projects and survives to fight the next elections.

Two things we can note: 1) there is no pressure on the judges…whether they tilt this way or that the decision will be entirely theirs; and 2) there is absolute secrecy about their deliberations. There’s not been a word anywhere about the kind of judgment they are writing and what it’s going to be. We are all in the dark and we are all living in suspense. The Sharif family is putting on a brave face but it too is in the dark.

Everyone would have noticed that the PML-N has gone all quiet. Even its early bluster has gone. Unless I am misreading the situation completely and don’t know what may be happening in the shadows, all that is left to the ruling family is the power of prayer and recourse to numerology.

It’s been said oftentimes about the Sharifs that they have escaped much. Cases and allegations that would have proved fatal to others they have survived. We have an ISI chief’s sworn affidavit before the Supreme Court that money was distributed to a list of PML-N politicians in the 1990 elections. In this list of luminaries the names of Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif are included. Imagine if this had been about the PPP. It would have been roasted alive. But nothing has happened to the Sharifs.

Take also the Model Town case in which too nothing has happened—14 dead and scores injured as a result of police firing but no consequences. Whose orders were police high-ups following? Absolute silence. Where is Justice Baqir Najafi’s report into this incident? Again silence and the courts, to all appearances, are not asking.

The Panama bench has a chance to write history. More than that, it has a chance to shape Pakistan’s immediate future. Other landmark judicial decisions have had short-term consequences. When the Supreme Court endorsed the Zia coup or much later the Musharraf takeover, the consequences were immediate, for the time being only. But an adverse judgment in the Panama case will upend the present political scene, overturning everything.

When Bhutto was overthrown by Zia the PPP survived. It wasn’t expected to but it did. The PML-N, on the other hand, lost little time in splintering after the Musharraf takeover. Half the PML-N fled to the other side and became the PML-Q under the Chaudries. In the 2002 elections there were many Punjab constituencies where the PML-N was unable to field any candidates. It just did not have them.

The PML-N is that kind of party for whose survival power is necessary. Take away that power or cause dents in its structure and the walls start crumbling. And if anyone thinks that the PML-N will take out public rallies if the Supreme Court decision goes against the ruling family he needs to think again. Far from taking to the streets the party’s MNAs and MPAs will start looking to all sides and examining their options. That’s the way of Pakistani politics.

Ayub in power was thought to be unassailable. Then the ground under him shook once people took to the streets. Bhutto was said to be all-powerful before the 1977 elections. When the election campaign started and he and his party started making avoidable mistakes the situation changed. In March 2007 Musharraf was all-powerful and then things started to happen—out of the blue, when least expected. And his seemingly powerful rule began to unravel.

At the beginning of last year—that is, 2016—the only problem for the Sharifs was Gen Raheel Sharif. The general was dominating the political skyline, not them. There was no sign of anything like the Panama papers. And then this thunderbolt came from the skies.

There was no compulsion for the Khosa bench to order day-to-day hearings in this case. There was no compulsion for this bench to ask for Ishaq Dar’s confessional statement about money-laundering. Then the bench, after expressing its annoyance that it hadn’t been told the truth, withheld judgment…leading to the present suspense.

Did all these things happen so that in the end when the drama was played out nothing should happen? Was all of this for nothing, all sound and fury signifying nothing? Since we don’t know many things, since the closing scenes of this extraordinary play are being played out behind the scenes, off the stage, intuition and gut feeling must be our guide. When great events unfold they don’t just peter out…they roll towards some kind of a climax.

So my gut feeling is that the day-to-day hearings and the telling remarks coming from the bench were not for nothing. They were not a smokescreen or a deception play. These things meant something. The excitement thus is not yet over. The best part is still to come.

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