Unmistakably, this is the season of ironies. There are ironies all around us – ripe, sweet, sour, some major, some minor, but none so unimportant as to be ignored. Take a look at the realm of politics; it is rife with them. Throw a glance at judicial matters. Ironies litter the courtyards. Pay attention to the media – ironies emblazoned across screens; seen and heard rolling off glib tongues with effortless ease.
The more striking of these ironies come from the protagonists of political power – political parties. First, the Pakistan Muslim League.
It was only weeks ago that we heard the PML-N team heave such huge sighs of relief in the wake of the Panama bench verdict that they could be heard across the Indian Ocean. They could not suppress their happiness over being vindicated by the split judgment and the formation of the Joint Investigation Team.
Party stalwarts extolled the virtues of the majority bench, whose judgments were cited at length to prove that the dissenting notes by Justices Gulzar and Khosa were aberrations to the judicial brilliance that shone through the verdict of the majority. There were high-fives and thumbs up. When the names of the JIT were being finalised, jubilation and rejoicing was witnessed everywhere. Much sweat was worked in figuring out the balance of odds in the JIT and a conclusion was drawn that the elephantine problem was over and now it was just the last hurdle to cross before the ghost of Panama could be rested forever. That was then. And now?
Contrast that mood of ubiquitous optimism with the current dread-filled ambiance that grips the N-League. Suddenly the JIT that was supposed to be the last ‘passable hurdle’ has become an albatross round the necks of the Sharif family, dragging them towards what the PML-N believes a pre-decided fate.
The judges whose words were praised so much by the party’s leaders are now the villains of the piece; their actions are suspect, their scales tilted. The famous three, whose order was being quoted as a signature of great justice, are now being reminded of their judicial ethics. Nehal Hashmi epitomises this irony: he was most vocal in showering rose petals on the very judges that he blasted in his rant recently.
Then they were gods of all virtue; now they are one-eyed monsters. Then they had saved the day for the PML-N. Now they are part of the Godfather school of thought. Then the JIT was fair play. Now the JIT has become a foul plot.
The season of ironies extends equally to the PTI. This JIT is a body that cannot do any justice – this was the standard line we heard ad nauseam, some weeks ago, from everyone in the party. The Panama bench verdict was lampooned so much that the chief justice of the Supreme Court had to tell Imran Khan – of course very politely – to ‘go slow’, try to understand that dissenting notes are not judicial verdicts, and respect the final verdict.
JIT members (other than members from the ISI and MI, of course) were suspects who could only pretend to be neutral but in reality could do little by way of real investigation because Nawaz Sharif had “bought off every institution” – Imran Khan’s pet phrase that no institution seems to mind.
But it is ironic how the same condemned and contested JIT has become a real deal for the PTI. JIT members are suddenly honourable people who are being deliberately targeted by the Sharifs because they are “doing really good work”. Suddenly the three judges who were mocked by the lionisation of the dissenting note by Justice Khosa are the best qualified to supervise a fair trial. Suddenly the PTI’s entire social media might has sprung to the defence of the same members of the bench who had greatly disappointed the party by not going the Justice Khosa way. Supremely ironic, all of this.
No less is the fact that, while Imran Khan now styles himself as the ultimate defender of the judiciary, his own run-ins with the judiciary are legendary. From openly accusing ex-chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry of selling his soul to the devil by fixing the last elections to calling the Election Commission of Pakistan totally biased for “political reasons”, Imran Khan has left little to imagination when it came to venting his spleen against the honour of judges every time he felt like doing so.
It was not long ago that the first dharna saw the most embarrassing sight of the Supreme Court perimeter fence being turned into an open laundry shop as shalwars and shirts of all sizes fluttered on the iron bars just beneath the green and white flying atop the building. Those among us who had the temerity to object to this sorry spectacle (in fact the whole dharna business) were told that the Supreme Court had been turned into a real “people’s court”.
Even though much of that laundry was that of PAT members (and of course smelling of heavenly perfume because of the purity of the flesh and spirit of Allama Sahib), we didn’t hear anyone from the PTI raise any objection to it. The honourable judges put up with the daily inconvenience of being re-routed into their own building with great fortitude – sweet of them – but no one from the PTI seems to mind the disorder. No one ever raised an eyebrow. It was all fine, ethical, moral, just. That history, of course, no one is interested in recalling. The new normal for the PTI is that the JIT is great and the three-member bench is the greatest, and they would do everything to resist any attempt by the Sharif government to ‘influence’ both.
Judicial matters aren’t devoid of ironies either. On the one hand, we see the judges uphold the law and honour of the Supreme Court. They tell us every day – and we better believe it or else – that they are doing their best to defend the fundamentals of the constitution. On the other hand, we have seen General Musharraf, the ultimate tormentor of the judiciary, being allowed off the hook without any qualms or compunction. The long arm of the law that can reach everyone somehow shrivels to a dysfunctional deformity when it comes to Musharraf. That is ironic.
Also when the likes of Naeem Bokhari hold forth before honourable judges on the lofty cannons of justice, the skies up above go green at the irony of it all because he along with a handful of others were Musharraf’s legal demolition squad against the judiciary. Did he ever apologise for what he did to the judiciary? Was he ever held in contempt of the court? But then why focus on him; many brother judges served Musharraf very well too –some in NAB, some in the high courts, some in the Supreme Court – and all of them remain honourable.
Now the media. Part of it is up in anger over the atrocity committed by Nehal Hashmi (who deserved what he got in the end). Should we not recall how half of the same media was deployed by the mighty establishment to take the judiciary hostage? How scores of news channels, that are now playing warriors of the law, happily became platforms of the worst ever assault on sitting judges, their supporters, their families, and those who dared to defend them? Does no one want to be reminded of life under real tyranny, when judges could be shoved into police vans and when courts and bar rooms were turned into war zones – the infamous shelling, firing, baton-charge upon the lawyers and media personnel that were fighting Musharraf’s regime?
It is ironic to hear words of mafias and goons being used at the drop of a hat these days without ever remembering the recent past’s evidence of how mafias work: they don’t threaten through workers and then apologise and bow in shame; they hold a pistol to wigged heads and force complete compliance. That’s Godfather-like power. That’s the Mafioso at work. When institutions that claim to remember everything forget such an obvious truth of national political life, there can’t be an irony more unfortunate than that.
The writer is former executive editor of The News and a senior journalist with Geo TV.