The Day of Judgment | Arif Nizami

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Arif Nizami Article

The PML-N ministers, the two Khawajas — Asif and Saad Rafiq — buttressed by the likes of Daniyal Aziz and Talal Chaudhary, have deliberately raised the ante through their verbal rants bordering on the abusive. But it seems what happened in the National Assembly was a planned putsch by the PTI

As the Panamagate hearing by the apex court is nearing a close, political tempers have reached a crescendo. The brawls witnessed on Thursday between the PML-N members and PTI stalwarts in the National Assembly were perhaps the most unsavoury in Pakistan’s chequered parliamentary history.

The stakes are high both for the ruling party as well as for the opposition. Imran Khan, after trying everything from a protracted dharna in 2014 to public rallies, protests and shut downs, is now banking on the Supreme Court to throw Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif out of the arena on charges of corruption.

The PML-N ministers, the two Khawajas — Asif and Saad Rafiq — buttressed by the likes of Daniyal Aziz and Talal Chaudhary, have deliberately raised the ante through their verbal rants bordering on the abusive. But it seems what happened in the National Assembly was a planned putsch by the PTI.

Shah Mehmood Qureshi is a seasoned politician. He has been in the parliament long enough to know how to behave while participating in its proceedings. But it seems that on the fateful day the PTI had planned to disrupt the proceedings and make a spectacle out of it. And that is what they did.

Why else would Shah Mehmood Qureshi, as parliamentary leader of his party speaking on a point of order, suddenly start raising slogans against the prime minister? Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, visibly flustered, approached Qureshi to be apprehended by a number of PTI backbenchers following the script probably prepared beforehand. Some PML-N members who came to the rescue of Abbasi predictably confronted the angry PTI backbenchers.

Imran Khan, instead of condemning the incident in unequivocal terms, himself let the cat out of the bag. Speaking to the media the next morning he said that he had always maintained that the National Assembly was a useless forum and hence should be wound up. He claimed that is why he does not waste his time attending it.

This is perverse logic. The assembly is not just a building but comprises of the members who get elected to it. In a democracy it is a repository of all powers manifested in both the government and the opposition.

If the ruling party and the opposition do not effectively participate in its proceedings nor contribute to its business, it is not the fault of the institution. Incidentally both Sharif and Khan rarely attend the parliamentary sessions. That is why most cabinet members also remain absent.

The case of Sharif is rather unique though. Since Panamagate he has been studiously avoiding any public forum where he could be questioned about the manner in which he acquired his Mayfair flats.

For the same reason, perhaps, he avoids facing the media. Only recently at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, he did not participate in any interactive session nor as per past tradition gave a presser.

Of course the ruling PML-N would like to complete its term so as to be able to reap the fruits of its power projects and development schemes. However, if the verdict does not favour Sharif, that might not be possible
The opposition had thrown a gauntlet at him by trying to lure him to the National Assembly by moving privilege motions against him for allegedly lying to the House about his assets. Sharif refused to fall into the trap knowing well how the opposition will behave.

Notwithstanding the desperation of the PTI to get rid of the Sharifs, it is evident from the attitude of the PML-N stalwarts that they too are getting frantic as the judgment day approaches.

It was a strange sight to see Khawaja Saad Rafiq in his signature self-righteous style implicitly threatening Justice Asif Khosa and the rest of the judges hearing the Panamagate case against the prime minister’s family. A senior PML-N leader confided in me that perhaps Sharif’s ministers, by their recalcitrant attitude, were damaging their boss more than the opposition.

He wondered aloud whether Sharif was party to this circus. The ubiquitous cell headed by the prime minister’s daughter, Maryam Safdar — herself in the dock — is managing the media show. Naturally she could not be initiating it without at least the tacit approval of her father.

How does it serve the cause of the prime minister to try to browbeat the judges by such remarks that if they rub them the wrong side they will have to eat ‘lohay key channay’(peas made of iron). The sense of desperation and panic in the corridors of power is becoming more obvious by the day.

The best course for the opposition as well as the government would have been to calmly wait for the verdict of the apex court. But both the PML-N and the PTI are trying to pressurise the court: Imran Khan, by his 24/7 media rants, is spewing venom against the Sharifs and perhaps as a reaction the PML-N stalwarts are attacking Imran and his top leadership by making highly personal and vicious attacks.

Ideally the bench hearing the Panamagate case should have imposed some restrictions on free for all speculations post each hearing by the protagonists. But now it is already too late for that to happen.

Whatever the outcome Imran Khan, by his concerted onslaught against Sharif, has perhaps inexorably damaged the latter’s brand. There are few takers of the PML-N‘s convoluted thinking that those who are raking up the Panama leaks issue against the prime minister are somehow averse to the wonders he is performing in the economic field and for the welfare of the people.

The PTI chief claims that whatever the outcome of the case Pakistan will inexorably change for the better by ushering a new era of accountability. Of course he is convinced that Sharif and his family is guilty as charged and will not be spared by the apex court.

It seems unlikely the court will pass the buck by forming a commission to probe Panamagate. It has heard the counsels representing the opposing parties threadbare. Hopefully the Day of Judgment will come during the coming week.

In the worst-case scenario Sharif should be prepared for a smooth transition. With just over a year left of his five-year term the country is already slipping into election mode.

Of course the ruling PML-N would like to complete its term so as to be able to reap the fruits of its power projects and development schemes. However, if the verdict does not favour Sharif, that might not be possible.

Some jurists opine that by virtue of being the ‘permanent establishment’, the courts historically have never punished the Sharifs for their acts of omission or commission. But perhaps they could be in for a rude shock this time around.

Nawaz Sharif might save his skin on technicalities. But still, as the saying goes: the emperor has no clothes.