Watching the future of history | Shaheen Sehbai


AS I write these words, when the final hours or days of the Panama trial are making history in the Supreme Court, it is difficult to write on such a subject. But today nothing else seems to matter.

Two big theatres, the court and the media, are visible with the same case fought by the same combatants but with totally different sets of arguments, strategies, principles and ethics.

Nothing can be said about the outcome, but the transparency of the trial in itself is making many things clear, at least in the minds of the people inside and outside the country, and probably the judges.

Everyone has apparently written or guessed the judgment in his mind and may react accordingly if shocked or surprised by what comes out. The reactions could range from dancing to violence in the streets or anything in between.

Piles of documents are being imported, rehashed and presented repeatedly, even at the last moment inside the court. The same papers are getting thrashed and trashed outside, with sharp media men pointing out loads of discrepancies like a 2007 Notary’s stamp put on top of a 2015 authentication by a similar foreign notary, genuine or fake.

Inside the court, lawyers are using every trick to save their clients, who have already been examined and cross questioned.

Outside, it’s all politics with high profile accused and witnesses making statements on TV, written and prepared even before they went into the JIT room, having no nexus with what they said or refused to say in their testimony.

The big fight is between a ruling family being tried on corruption charges inside the court and using its political and executive power to subvert the trial outside.

Many otherwise forbidden practices and red lines have been crossed or ignored.

There is no concept of “obstruction of justice”, and no one is paying attention to it. The words ‘conflict of interest’ seem not to exist in any discourse, inside or outside the court. Does it even matter?

In the loud noise that is drowning every sane voice, adherence to basic ethics and principles is being ignored with impunity, be it practicing the law, reporting or analysing facts, by and on the media, and taking sides for or against conflicting points of view.

In taking sides, some players in politics and the media have gone way beyond their call of profession. Reporting same old (same old) facts and documents as Breaking News and ‘just arrived’ new evidence is one side of the story, as if the other side just does not exist.

Jumping on these proactive media supporters and tearing them to pieces is considered as the religious duty of the other side, both in the mainstream and the free-for-all social media.

Never before has the country seen such a high profile corruption case against a sitting government being fought with such ferocity, outside the court, minute by minute, hour to hour, day to day. Publicly abusing opponents is considered fair game.

The myth that Pakistan is still not firmly set in the democratic tradition, and the system is so fragile that punishing a financial crime by a person or a family could derail the entire process, has to be tested
Each side thinks it has the right to interpret and present every argument and document and that should be final. There is no worry that if tomorrow or the day after, facts turns out to be otherwise, credibility or face may be lost. Don’t bother about charges of receiving cash envelopes.

It’s a grand entertainment circus that has gripped the nation, and attracted attention of the outside world, as everyone waits for the three or five judges of the apex court to give their verdict that may set the course for the future political, executive and even security set up of the country.

In the process many myths may be confirmed or erased for ever.

The myth that the establishment, judicial or security, will never act against the ruling elite of the largest province, no matter how many murders or loot and plunder it may have committed, is to be tested, buried for ever or given a permanent nod as inevitable fact.

The myth that the security establishment has finally withdrawn into its shell, decided not to interfere with the political and policy matters, allowing the constitutional process to take its course and let the chips fall where they may, is itself on trial.

The myth that the judiciary has finally grown up and obtained the strength and confidence to take decisions on merit, not to come under pressure, not to sell its soul and uphold the law and the constitution as it should always have done, will be exposed or reaffirmed.

The myth that the media has actually become the strongest pillar, with all other pillars either using it, fearing it or trying to appease it, has to be established.

Finally the myth and the fear that Pakistan is still not firmly set in the democratic tradition and the system is so fragile that punishing a financial crime by a person or a family could derail the entire process has to be tested.

All of these fears and misgivings are now tied to the Panama Case which could become the most important court trial of our times, for good or for bad.