IT WAS the judgement Pakistan had awaited for 57 days, one that was expected to change the country’s history. Its opening line reproduced with dramatic flourish a quotation from Balzac in Mario Puzo’s Godfather: “Behind every fortune is a crime”. The bottom line was that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif survived, but not without threatening wounds.
But if Imran Khan, leader of the Pakistan-Tehreek-e-Insaaf, who left the courtroom early, was feeling crushed, there was nothing much to celebrate for Sharif either despite the distribution of sweets by his partymen. The 3-2 split verdict’s order that a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) should be formed to probe the allegations is a political setback regardless of what the PM and his party are saying.
Sharif’s supporters cannot stop saying that he has now been pronounced sadiq (honest) and ameen (trustworthy). Imran Khan is jubilant over the dissenting view of the two judges and that the PM and his sons will now have to appear before the JIT “like criminals”; he is asking for the PM’s resignation.
The other Opposition party, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), headed by Benazir’s son and co-chaired by her widower Asif Ali Zardari, is not a party to the SC petition. But it has stated that it is not surprised by the judgment as the superior judiciary has always been “soft” on Sharif and his family. It has also called for the PM’s resignation.
The JIT is to be formed within seven days to investigate and has to complete its probe within 60 days. The Supreme Court has directed Sharif and his two sons, Hussain and Hassan, to give full cooperation to the JIT, and appear before it, if and when required.
Perhaps this is the most damaging part of the order for Sharif. While the court has ended one chapter, it has set off another saga, which will ensure that allegations of corruption against Sharif remain in the public eye and that the details of his wealth, discussed in embarrassing detail by the Supreme Court, will be thrashed out once again by the JIT.
The questions that the JIT will investigate are the same that were extensively discussed in the court. From a lawyer’s perspective, if the court had to pass on the ball to a JIT, it need not have held 36 hearings over two months. But the JIT may also be Sharif’s best bet for exoneration.
The team is to comprise of six members, drawn from the Securities Exchange Commission of Pakistan, National Accountability Bureau, State Bank of Pakistan, Federal Investigation Agency and interestingly, from the ISI and Military Intelligence as well.
Except for the two military representatives, the remaining are under the thumb of the government.
Imran is already saying that the JIT will be under the command and supervision of the PM, except for ISI and MI, and thus cannot be expected to give an independent verdict. He wants the Prime Minister to resign so that the JIT can accomplish its task without interference.
How much weight the two representatives of the military will command will depend on their seniority, but also on how much the military under Pakistan army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa wants to involve itself in the probe.
In Pakistan, Sharif is seen as an “India lover” because he constantly speaks of his desire for peace between the two countries. But whatever the Modi government’s views are on talking to Pakistan, for now, the verdict has ensured that Sharif cannot take or participate in any initiative on that front. He will say and do nothing that can be used against him by the military-security establishment or any other section of the polity. Kulbhushan Jadhav’s fate is thus linked to Sharif’s.
After the JIT submits its report, another special bench will be constituted to examine the contents of the report. The timeline will take Pakistan right into the run up to the 2018 election, where Sharif will hope for a people’s endorsement that he is sadiq and ameen, and Imran Khan will do everything to ensure this does not happen.