So many questions | Najam Sethi

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The JIT has become much too controversial for its own good. The opposition says this is a planned strategy by the government to save its neck. This would seem to make sense because a verdict against the Sharifs by a controversial JIT is not likely to have any credibility and will make the job of the three judges on the Supreme Court bench very difficult. As it is, the 3/2 judgment of the original five-member SC bench is steeped in controversy and another split judgment of the current three-member SC bench is going to make matters worse. Stray remarks by one or the other judges point to their frustration and irritation in the matter but have triggered whispering campaigns of bias.

Be that as it may, the facts tell a different story. The judges were wholly right in seeking a JIT of upright and unbiased professionals to investigate the money trail of the Sharif family. They were also right to seek recommendations from the top bosses of the MI, ISI, SECP, SBP, FIA and NAB. The problem arose when they decided to reject the nominations of the SECP and SBP. The two gentlemen who were finally chosen, ostensibly because of their expertise and professionalism, were tainted by anti-Sharif bias. More worryingly, the process of selecting them was not transparent even if it was in good faith. But when evidence of presumed bias was produced by a worried respondent the judges rejected it. It then transpired that the induction was even more murky than imagined: instead of being nominated, it had been clearly manipulated at someone’s behest. Who that “someone” is has yet to be determined even though the footprints of a senior officer of the SC are all over the place. But there’s more.

The first member of the Sharif family to be interviewed by the JIT, Tariq Shafi, has accused it of bullying and arm twisting. A degree of firmness is certainly the need of the hour and the Sharifs must expect some hard talk. But second degree methods are not par for the course in such an investigation. The treatment meted out to Hussain Nawaz also borders on harassment if not intimidation. Short response time to produce documents, long waits in the out-room, and now the mysterious appearance of a video grab of Hussain cowering in a bare room like a common criminal have given the Sharifs good cause to complain. The video-grab cannot be the handiwork of anyone except the administrators of the project. Who are these?

It is now clear that the military establishment is firmly in control of this project. The two gentlemen from the ISI and MI in this JIT are the same two who led the JIT investigations in the Dawnleaks case that created a serious rift between the civil and military leaders. Now we learn that all the “coordinators” are also from the same sort of military sources. On the face of it, there is nothing wrong in seeking such help. After all, civilians are wont to clutch at the military whenever they doubt their own neutrality or ability, as for example in critical help in conducting a census or in overseeing general elections. But the current case is of a different nature. We know that Mr Sharif is intensely disliked by the military establishment for one reason or another. A cursory overview of serving and recently retired military officers will testify to their bristling hostility against him even if the current top brass is not so overly inclined. Under the circumstances, the government has every right to demand that the JIT should not only do justice but also appear to be doing so. We are, after all, investigating a popularly elected leader who has won the confidence of the people of Pakistan and been prime minister twice before and, going by current polls, is poised to win again in 2018.

Now there is a new development in the case. The Qatari Al-Thani Royal who provided a letter authenticating the source of funds for the Sharifs’ London flats has declined a JIT summons to Islamabad to clarify his position. Given the current state of geostrategic hostility in which Qatar finds itself because of a joint Saudi-UAE move to isolate and strangle the ruling Al-Thani regime, the witness has suggested that the JIT should come to Doha and interview him there. There is nothing untoward in this request. Instead of provoking media-carping, the JIT should dispatch someone to do the needful.

Unfortunately, Nihal Hashmi’s histrionics has provoked more questions. Who nudged him to make a statement that severely undermined the Sharifs’ position and compelled the PM to reprimand him severely? Indeed, who has now persuaded Mr Hashmi to resist his party leader’s demand for resignation from the Senate?

Many such questions are hanging in the air. We need answers. The honourable and upright judges should take steps to redeem the situation quickly.