Before the drums of victory and chest-beating of defeat deafen every ear in the country, it is important to put in black and white what the Panama-leaks-scandal- turned-JIT-affair has been all about all these months.
Mostly, the weary long months that the whole scandal raged have been about the inability of the ruling Sharif family to come up with basic facts about their business history. They have dribbled the ball of their famed three-generation long financial empire around the whole field without parking it anywhere that can be called convincing.
The Sharifs have played the victim, the martyr, the underdog, the injured puppy, the chained tiger – everything except the commonsensical business house that would have the various stages of their business progression on publicity brochures, on websites and most certainly in the cupboards of their record files.
Just because the elder Sharif passed away does not mean that he took with him the entire record of how their fancy assets registered quantum jumps over a few decades. In fact all successful business firms, industries and ventures like to boast of their records by noting them for public consumption so that the marketing of their products gains greater credibility and currency. But the Sharifs run a strange business empire (though by no means the only one in the country) that has amassed baffling wealth and yet can’t seem to find basic documents of money transactions and receipts of windfalls gained and phenomenal profits made. Even a grocery store keeps better books than the Sharifs.
It takes a complete fool to believe the Sharifs’ narrative that they made ‘a lot of effort’ to produce records of their own business. They didn’t. They have not been forthright. They know how much money they have. Every penny is accounted for. How come they did not have the records ready for inspection? And who would forget to mention in a case like this a company he heads? But that is how they have argued the case. So the Panama leaks scandal and its JIT thriller have been about the Sharifs’ dubiousness and their clumsy effort to skate dodgy documents on the thin ice of the law.
The entire affair has also been about fake heroism and the hollow claims of a revolution in the making by Imran Khan and Co. Couching crass power ambitions in the velvet clothing of principles of good governance and jihad against corruption, Imran Khan’s party has used the Sharifs’ precarious situation to weave a fiction that bears no relevance to reality. This is not a fight to eradicate corruption. If it were so, Imran Khan would have started from his home and cleansed some of his financiers from the party ranks. Or at least created some semblance of accountability in the province whose government he governs from his not-so-ordinary residence in Bani Gala, whose financial origins are themselves an enigma explained ten different times differently.
Nor has his critique of the Sharifs been about rule of law and good governance. Standing with Asif Ali Zardari, who has knocked out the NAB law in Sindh and has a less-than-clean financial record (to put it very very mildly), hardly makes a convincing argument that Mr Khan is a valiant warrior for a cleaner, legally even-handed Pakistan.
His entire push all this while has been to get the PM House vacated so that he can be seated there (not that simple but that is the essence of it.) Nawaz Sharif has to be pulled down for Imran Khan to be catapulted to the seat of power that he has been coveting since the Musharraf years. Just like his buddy, the one-generation billionaire Jehangir Khan Tareen, wants to makes sure that he remains Pakistan’s prime sugar monopolist by ruining the Sharifs in Punjab, Imran Khan also wants to install a Khanite in place of this Sharifdom. It is a ruthless bid for power, pelf, and privilege – pure, undiluted. That’s what these months have been as far as Imran Khan is concerned. Nothing to do with people’s welfare or democracy.
The entire episode has also been about legal ingenuity and extreme experimentation with the bounds of the constitution. We understand that exceptional situations call for cooking exceptional legal recipes, but this JIT dish of many splendours takes legal cooking to a level that no chef in the past has been able to achieve. The JIT worked as a state within state, a supra government, a policymaking institution, an intelligence agency of unlimited resources and international reach, a contract giver (after God I trust my own cousin), a mini foreign office, an internal spy network that could monitor the media and tap phones, a judge, a jury, an executioner. It was headed by the FIA, led by ISI, fed by the MI and kept its own affairs (where did its periodical and final reports go first before these were presented to the judicial bench? Hmm! More on that later, not now). It could break laws (photo leak, phone-tapping) invent fictions of its members’ lives being in danger, accuse the media of running a smear campaign and yet remain a prima donna that nobody could ask anything about its dealings.
And yet – and yet – its report that some in the judicial and media circles expect to be treated with respect normally reserved for books of eternal wisdom could not even produce enough documentation to counter the Sharifs’ holes-ridden claims. It built its entire case against the Sharifs on the absence of documents rather than on the production of solid evidence: something that the five-member bench through a majority decision had agreed to be a poor ground for making up its mind and because of which the JIT was created in the first place.
Normally, in junior courts when an investigator brings such flimsy work for prosecution, the judges read a riot act and give him red cheeks. Here the JIT got garlands of honour.
We also saw in all these months of torturous proceedings, even stranger spectacles and legal precedents than the JIT. We saw and heard the bench speak more than the respondents, we heard judges giving their mind before they gave their judgments, we saw fingers being wagged at the media and we saw, heard and recorded protectors of the fundamental rights of individuals smash and smear reputations using high pedestals as guillotine machines.
We also saw media outlets becoming platforms for preaching hate and pronouncing judgments on opponents’ patriotism. We saw and heard (not for the first nor last time) calls being made on the army chief to get ready to play his role as a proud son of the soil. We saw social media gutters overflow with sewage water of exceptional dirt as hypocrites, sycophants and ageing elephants all came out trumpeting praise for the establishment for having done a brilliant job of nailing down the sitting government.
So all these months (more than a year actually) have not been a happy spectacle. And that’s the truth. The Panama leaks investigation – turned into a soap opera by JIT jugglery and media antics – has not been about real people, about their real problems, about taking the country forward, about cleaning and reforming the system. It has been mud wrestling fought by the unholy cows of the country (politicians) against each other as the holy cows watched with glee, enjoyed from the front seats and at times appropriately directed for their pleasure.
From the womb of this terrible record we now expect great things to be born for Pakistan. We are told that we are on the verge of a new national order, a revolution that would make us great quicker than anyone can finish a Big Mac.
We hope it is true. We hope we become a Disneyland of joy and bliss. But it is hard not to shudder and tremble when we see what all has happened since the Panama leaks investigation began: we have been a nation at war against itself and thoroughly loving it. This has been a disastrous indulgence. This doesn’t foretell a great immediate future.
The writer is former executive editor of The News and a senior journalist with Geo TV.