Beyond such things as the law and the constitution lies the power of fate…things that you may not have guessed, would scarcely have anticipated but which catch up with you. And in their embrace you are helpless.
Could the Sharif clan have imagined that something like the Panama case would happen to them? Panama is as far away from Pakistan as anyone can imagine – at the opposite end from where we are. Yet something arising from there has caught up with the Sharifs and try as they might it is not leaving them. The truth inadvertently slipped from President Mamnoon Hussain’s lips when he said that the Panama revelations were a bolt from the heavens.
Look how the questions coming from their lordships are becoming more searching, getting under the skin of the clan’s lawyers – some of the best in Pakistan, but their brilliance proving to be of little avail as in the absence of anything credible to say about the Sharif’s hidden wealth and the properties bought, surreptitiously, from that wealth, what arguments can these luminaries spin?
My friend Makhdoom Ali Khan has now been trying to mount a legal defence of sorts for the beleaguered but can anyone not totally prejudiced truthfully say that he has come up with anything that ordinary mortals can make the least head or tail of? I call him a friend because years ago when I contributed a weekly column to the leftist weekly, Viewpoint, Makhdoom too would contribute an occasional article. Then he went on to better things, ending up as Gen Pervez Musharraf’s long-serving attorney general. Now he is Nawaz Sharif’s counsel…the wheel turning full circle.
When My Lord Jamali’s court first took up the Panama petitions would anyone have thought that it would ever come to the grilling that we are seeing now? And when Milord Jamali departed and left the case to his successor, the incumbent chief justice who as his very first act in office constituted a bench to hear the Panama petitions headed by My Lord Khosa, it would have been a sharp-sighted observer who could have thought through the ramifications of what is slowly turning into one of the seminal cases in Pakistan’s judicial history.
Allah knoweth best how this turns out in the end, and let not those not endowed with divine foreknowledge prejudge the issue. But the searching questions, the painstaking effort on display to dig into this sea of obfuscation and get at the truth, the slow but persistent roasting of my friend Makhdoom, has already created a mood and a situation…and seeing all this you can’t help saying that the mills of God grind slowly but they grind exceeding small.
For the Sharifs this should have been the best year of all, a slow progression of tape-cutting and the unveiling, real or contrived, of new projects and mega undertakings as they sailed serenely into the next triumphant elections, something on the lines of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s victorious march across the Turkish landscape.
It is turning out so differently: the family mired in scandal and questions daily asked about finances and money trails, the names of sons and heiress daughter bandied about in court – the entire family the butt of jokes, exposed to derision and national ridicule, the heavy mandate and the heavy projects all sucked into the quicksand called Panama, the name now familiar to every school kid and amateur comedian across the face of the Islamic Republic.
It has been said before but it bears repeating, the Sharif clan has been fortune’s child, its leading figures the most successful politicians in Pakistan’s storm-tossed history. Brilliant men couldn’t make it or fell afoul of unlucky circumstance. Holding on to the coattails of a military dictator the Sharif siblings came to political office and power early. Their family was middling capitalist before, far below the level of, say, the Valikas, the Dawoods and the Adamjees, to take only these examples. But proximity to power leant them a golden touch, turning them into super-capitalists in a relatively short time.
Throughout this meteoric rise to power and glory rumours and allegations, many backed by solid evidence, abounded of dubious financial dealings: fake foreign bank accounts opened in the names of unsuspecting individuals and subsequently used for money-laundering. With the Musharraf coup a host of inquiries were launched against the Sharifs but before they could come to anything desert royalty came to their assistance and after a deal with Musharraf they were whisked off to the favoured land.
The return of democracy saw a marriage of convenience between the two erstwhile foes whose unrelenting enmity had kept national politics on the boil for over a decade. The PPP did not pursue the cases against the Sharifs, letting the cases die, and the Sharifs soft-pedalled the Arabian Night stories of the other side. The Sharifs were also smart enough to approach the courts for clearance, the courts granting them this relief for lack of prosecution.
In other words, nothing stuck to the Sharifs, nothing against them was proved in a court of law. In legal terms they were as pure as the driven snow. Even the Asghar Khan case – about money given to the Sharifs and a list of PML-N bigwigs by the ISI in the 1990 elections – came to nothing, despite a Supreme Court injunction that action be taken. And we know what happened in the Model Town case, 14 persons, including two women, shot dead by the police and scores injured but the case lost somewhere in the byways of Pakistani jurisprudence.
Then out of the blue this thunderbolt from the skies, and as this case takes on a life of its own, there is no other explanation ready to hand except the workings of fate or destiny. Furthermore, what the Sharifs could not have bargained for is the fact that the Supreme Court is now its own master, subject to no outside influence much less dictation.
No Sharifuddin Pirzada or Wasim Sajjad can pass it secret instructions. No Rafiq Tarar can spread schism in its ranks, as happened at the time of Justice Sajjad Ali Shah’s ouster. No doctrine of necessity hovers over its head. It lies not in the power of anyone to pass a provisional constitutional order – the favourite device of incoming strongmen – and require their lordships to take a fresh oath of office.
And thanks to my lord Iftikhar Chaudry, who can be faulted on other counts, the succession question in the Supreme Court has been solved once and for all. We don’t know who the next army chief will be but barring the intervention of Providence we know who the next chief justice of Pakistan will be. The superior judiciary thus has more security of tenure and expectation than the civil service, the military and the political class.
It is this independence which is showing in these proceedings. This means that Pakistan’s journey through the woods may be fitful but it is nonetheless a journey with a positive direction. The military is not the holy cow it used to be. The media is not the obedient poodle it used to be. Many other things too – but let this not be spelled out too explicitly – are not what they used to be.