JIT deserves praise
This Joint Investigation Team which has been tasked to look into the hidden and undisclosed financial exploits of the Sharifovs wasn’t supposed to conduct itself like this. It wasn’t supposed to behave in an independent manner. Most of us thought it would be under the government’s thumb. We thought the interior minister—never one to subscribe to the Shakespearean dictum that brevity is the soul of wit—or someone from the PM’s office would be able to influence it.
But pundits, skeptics and doubters have been proved wrong, utterly wrong. This JIT is behaving out of character. It is on its own, bereft of the support of its parent organizations—the State Bank, the Security and Exchange Commission, the Federal Investigation Agency, the National Accountability Bureau all deeply unhappy and upset with their representatives on this body. Only the two military officials, from ISI and Military Intelligence, can claim that they have the support of their parent departments. The civilian reps are out on a limb but they haven’t taken any hints, haven’t bowed to pressure.
They are doing their thing with courage and dignity and this, as already stated, is totally out of character as far as Pakistani officialdom is concerned. From the reaction of the N League it appears that what it was expecting was an honour guard for Hussain Nawaz when he appeared before the JIT. When he was grilled for several hours on end and then told to appear again the ruling family and the ruling party were alike stunned.
Thus all their guns were turned against the JIT, the ruling party’s redoubtable loudspeaker battalion led by such maestros as Daniyal Aziz and Talal Chaudry doing all in its power to bombard the JIT with allegations of bias and prejudice. Newspapers toeing the ruling party’s line—and there are large media houses engaged in this noble endeavour—are lending their powerful voices to this chorus. These outlets are doing their best to divert public attention from the charges against the Sharif family towards the working of the JIT. The real aim is to put pressure on the Supreme Court—or rather the three-member bench overseeing the JIT’s functioning.
To the chagrin of the ruling party these tactics are not working. The three-member bench has refused to come under any kind of pressure and it has expressed its full confidence in the JIT. Indeed the JIT has no other strength than what it is deriving from the Supreme Court. If it did not have the firm support of My Lord Ejaz Afzal Khan and his two colleagues, it would have been eaten raw by the ruling party. There was a JIT on the Model Town killings as well. Does anyone know what has become of it?
By appearing before this investigating team, as he had to appear because he had no choice in the matter, Nawaz Sharif has written no history. The real history of these times is being written by the JIT and the directing judges. What the end result of this process may be is beside the point. We can’t prejudge the outcome. But the very process we are seeing, Nawaz Sharif’s appearance and his grilling for nearly three hours…that is the new marker in our history.
It is not the prime minister who has set a precedent—his case would have suffered if he had refused to make an appearance—but the JIT, composed of second-tier officials, which has set a new example by refusing to bow to implied threats and open pressure.
Ever since the Sharifs got into trouble because of the Panama Papers a fake culture of democracy has sprouted in Pakistan. According to this pro-Sharif take on democracy, since Nawaz Sharif is the elected prime minister, any questioning of him, whether on account of alleged money-laundering or alleged tax evasion, is an attack on democracy.
The media pillars referred to above are peddling this line the most. Using democracy as a defensive cover they are trying to rubbish, through smear and innuendo, the working of the JIT. Longish editorials have been written in leading English papers—and the ruling classes of this Islamic republic pay more attention to things written in English—against this investigation.
Nawaz Sharif went a step further. When he emerged from the JIT he played the republic-in-danger card. Reading from a prepared statement—which must have been written by my friend Irfan Siddiqui, who is principal speech writer to the PM—he said that if these “puppet games” continued the country’s security and integrity would be under threat.
The logic here is interesting. Concealment of wealth, possible tax evasion, hidden money trails, and allegations of money-laundering are no threat to anything. But if you are caught—not by anything concocted in Pakistan but through the revelations of an international scandal—and then if into all these things an inquiry under the law and the protective umbrella of the constitution is set in motion the country’s wellbeing is imperiled. In other words, for the country’s sake Nawaz Sharif should not be questioned.
Nawaz Sharif is in a bind, no question about it. He has faced friendly judges throughout his long political career. This is the first independent judicial bench he has encountered and the first independent investigation ordered by this bench into his financial affairs and that of his children…and in his defence he is invoking the doctrine of national survival, which every ruler tries to grasp at when his ship starts to flounder. This is the doctrine of indispensability, that the country would not survive his departure.
This is an interesting phase in our history. A seemingly unassailable government is facing a crisis it doesn’t know how to surmount. Just a few months back the same pundits who are now equating democracy with Nawaz Sharif’s survival were confidently predicting that he had the next elections safely in his pocket—a result foretold and preordained. Now they are talking about the survival of the system.
Senior N Leaguers have already begun thinking of a post-Nawaz Sharif scenario—who will replace him as party head if he becomes a casualty of the Panama affair? They think the transition will be easy, from him to someone else. But it’s never like that. Our parties are personality-driven entities. When something happens to the leader and there is no obvious dynastic succession there is trouble in the kingdom. This is the lesson of Muslim history, most departures followed by turmoil and wars of succession.
But the good thing is that even as this crisis comes to a head—the decision shouldn’t be too long in coming—our institutions are holding up and doing what they are supposed to do. The ‘system’, whatever we understand by it, is under no threat. This crisis is a crisis of one family, albeit the ruling family. It is not a crisis of the nation.