By: Zeeshan Salahuddin
The JIT report is damning and damaging to the lives and careers of the Sharif family. Commentators and analysts are all actively giving their analysis. But there are a few key things that we should not overlook in the resultant cacophony.
First, the public should not and must not forget the vociferous and vehement manner in which the party’s media strategy was contorted and refocused to defend and obfuscate the actions of the Sharif clan. With the report out, the big guns of PML-N have shifted to discrediting and disowning the JIT and the investigation it has conducted. The interior minister made a statement claiming the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) is involved in money laundering and corruption at the highest echelons. With apologies Mr. Minister, the sins of your rivals do not wash away your misdeeds. Ironically, when the April split decision concluded there was insufficient evidence to remove the PM, Nisar had asked parties to “respect the verdict”. The same court’s JIT’s report has now been summarily labelled a “piece of trash”, and emphatically rejected by PML-N.
To summarize, the PML-N doctrine is: accept everything that supports us, trash everything against us (even if the two are from the same source).
Second, the PML-N will have us believe that this is a conspiracy, designed to dismantle the party, attack democracy, destabilise the parliament, and throw the country into chaos. This grandiose and almost juvenile claim is false for several reasons. The party is not under investigation, the Sharif clan is. All too often, political parties equate any action against them as an attack on democracy. You do not singlehandedly represent democracy, and part of the consolidation of the democratic process is ensuring accountability from top to bottom. Additionally, even if every member of the Sharif clan was discredited and barred from holding public office, the parliament would not be disturbed in the slightest. You have majority mandate and seats. Simply appoint another party veteran. Finally, the country will only benefit from this, as accountability is affirmation of the rule of law, the most important tenant of a civilized society. When the highest echelons of power are corrupt, resulting in trickle-down corruption, accountability must also start at the very top.
Second, we are officially in the election cycle. If we follow the law to the letter, the current government has just over half a year left in its tenure. The report is now with the apex court, and it has a few options on how to proceed. However, this will not be wrapped up in a neat little bow over the next few days. The Panama scandal erupted in April 2016, well over 15 months ago. Even if Nawaz is declared unfit for office and forced to step down, it will not change the party’s rule or tenure.
Third, we must consider who wins, should the Sharifs, specifically Nawaz, Shahbaz, and Maryam, be banished from power? There are two answers to this question. Within the party, even out of power, the Sharifs will control the strings, and that requires willing puppets. There are a few camps, the weakest of them being the Chaudhary Nisar and Khawaja Asif camp. Party veterans like Ahsan Iqbal and Khurram Dastagir fit the bill nicely, and will likely be the front for Sharif manipulation in the background.
Outside the party, the PPP has incurred heavy losses in terms of both reputation and personnel. During their reign from 2008 to 2013, despite a few politically mature and progressive steps, their governance was an unmitigated disaster. This resulted in major losses in the 2013 elections, and paved the way for Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI) to emerge as the third major political force in decades, faring second in terms of popular votes. The PPP have also been hemorrhaging members to the PTI over the last few months, thinning out the ranks of party stalwarts.
These factors coalesce to position the PTI as the strongest candidate for the potential regime change. The exact locus may be indeterminable, though it will most likely be the upcoming elections. The JIT report is an important step forward for the people of Pakistan, who have been literally robbed by the political elites and dynastic, monarchical rule for decades.
Finally, it is important that this happens, because it sets a precedent. Pakistanis have known, or at least suspected, egregious abuse of power via corruption and money laundering by the ruling elite. But this is the first tangible, empirical step towards legally viable recourse. The irony of Nawaz marching in 2009 to reinstate the judiciary and start this process notwithstanding, this is Iftikhar Chaudhary’s legacy coming full circle, where the guardians of the law emerge as the new establishment. It is a major turning point for Pakistan, one where the cycle of economic self-destruction is mitigated by prosecuting and jailing money launderers and corrupt officials. A turning point where rule of law and national interest take centre stage. A turning point when Pakistan no longer overlooks the criminals and goons making jingoistic noise about raison d’état, while they bleed the coffers dry, and relish in smug decadence and extravagance. A turning point where Pakistan may finally get the fresh breed of leaders it deserves.
The writer serves as a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad, is a freelance journalist, and holds a bachelor and master degree in strategic communications from Ithaca College, NY. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org and tweets @zeesalahuddin
Originally Published in Daily Times