JIT jitters | Najam Sethi


Nihal Hashmi, the sole PMLN Senator from Karachi, is the fourth Nawaz Sharif loyalist to bite the dust in recent years. The irony is that like his noteworthy predecessors — Senator Mushaidullah, Senator Pervez Rashid and Mr Tareq Fatimi — his error lay in stepping on the toes of the powerful civil-military establishment in overzealous defense of his party-political line and not in revolting against their party chief. Indeed, in all cases, instead of protecting them as befits staunch loyalists covering his flanks, Mr Sharif succumbed to pressure and sacrificed them at the altar of his own security and longevity. The greater irony is that neither the PMLN nor Mr Sharif has yet managed to secure the trust of the civil-military establishment which was the main motive for abandoning these loyalists. This raises the question of whether it was right not to defend them in the first place. Indeed, the summary treatment meted out to them is bound to deter many from being more loyal than the King.

Mr Hashmi has often been a maddeningly blind defender of the PMLN and Nawaz Sharif. This made him a target of the establishment and opposition. But he went overboard on 28th May when he lost his cool before a small crowd of PMLN workers and warned “those who were conducting the accountability of the Sharif family” that PMLN workers would make this land of Pakistan “narrow” for them and their children because they would not be spared after they retired from service. “Those investigating us must know that we will observe your Day of Judgment”, he thundered. His ire was clearly aimed at some overly aggressive members of the JIT investigating the money trail of the Sharifs, notably Mr Bilal Rasool from the SECP and Mr Amer Aziz from the SBP who have been accused of anti-PMLN bias.

The PMLN is severely embarrassed by Mr Hashmi’s outburst. Only a couple of days ago, its case against both JIT members received a boost when it was revealed by the media that their selection was possibly motivated. The Registrar of the SC has not yet adequately explained why he leaned on the SECP to specially nominate Mr Rasool when several other names had been forwarded to him. After Mr Hashmi’s outburst, however, the focus of the debate has shifted to his threats against the JIT and the PMLN’s case has been significantly undermined. Now the CJP has summoned Mr Hashmi to determine whether he was in contempt of the judges who are carrying out the accountability of the Sharifs or threatening the JIT or both. Meanwhile, in a desperate effort to distance himself from Mr Hashmi’s objectionable tirade, the prime minister, who is president of the PMLN, has suspended him from party membership and obtained his resignation from the Senate.

The opposition is accusing Mr Sharif of instigating Mr Hashmi. But the accusation is not credible. It is still inexplicable that his statement should hit media headlines three full days after it was made. Did he perhaps fall into a trap by certain vested interests? Certainly, the PMLN has been badly hurt by his statement and its leaders are bemoaning Mr Hashmi’s stupidity, so they couldn’t possibly be behind it.

Regardless of Mr Hashmi’s indiscretion, certain aspects of the JIT investigation are troubling. The opposition-connections of Mr Rasool’s wife have not been denied. That implies an inbuilt bias against the ruling party. Mr Amer Aziz’s role in the prosecution or persecution (depends on how one looks at it) of the Sharifs during the Musharraf era is also a fact of political life. However, the SC has held both facts to be inconsequential. But how on earth can the new evidence of “interference” by the SC Registrar be ignored unless it is admitted he did so on behalf of the judges who had valid reason to pick and choose. It is also becoming clear that 60 days is too little time in which to marshal convincing evidence against the Sharifs for money laundering. The JIT’s attempt to substitute intimidation for investigation as alleged by some respondents is also worrying no less than the Sharifs attempts to obfuscate matters.

Much the same sort of problems are evident in the trial of Imran Khan in the SC and ECP for his inability to explain legitimate sources of external funding for the PTI as well as the money trail of his offshore company and the source of funds for the sprawling, billion rupee worth property at Bani Gala. The record simply isn’t available or forthcoming. Or there are damning holes in it. And the respondent-accused is making excuses or delaying matters.

Politics is dirty business. Just as it is wrong to mix religion and politics, it is counterproductive to drag the courts into it. In both these cases against Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif, the honourable judges may suffer negative consequences if justice is not seen to be done to either.