For Sharifs, is jail a halt on way towards a comeback?

Hyper-partisanship, fear, anger, dread, confusion it's all out there at the moment and it's all mixed up.

Horror in Mastung, farce in Punjab — one numbing and grotesque, the other familiar political confrontation. But that’s where the week has left us, so that’s where we must go.

Hyper-partisanship, fear, anger, dread, confusion — it’s all out there at the moment and it’s all mixed up. So let’s try and stick to a measure that maybe some can agree on: effectiveness.

Surely, whatever’s being done, whatever’s being wrought, whatever’s being suffered by whomever, the action or the response to be assessed can be held against a standard of effectiveness. To wit, is it working?

Value neutral may be value free and that’s rarely a good thing, but value neutral can at least try and sidestep issues of partisanship in a toxic, dangerous environment.

So, is it working?

Start with Nawaz. If only because the situation is more obvious and there’s more that can be publicly said. Early on, there were two problems apparent in the quest to oust Nawaz from politics.

Remove him from office, how? Send him to jail and then what? The first had been partially answered in the PPP’s last stint. In a post-58(2)(b) world and with direct rule ruled out as not worth the trouble yet, there aren’t exactly a plethora of options. But a path did become available in the PPP’s last stint: the court.

Ouster inevitably ends up in the court for adjudication, so why not pre-empt the challenge and get the court to do the ouster itself. Iftikhar Chaudhry’s coruscating judicial activism was the perfect accompaniment at the time.

It worked with one PPP PM and then nearly with the next, but the chap who was really being hunted had cloaked himself in the immunity of the presidency.

That great escape probably still rankles, and it’s worth remembering that Gilani was knocked out for shielding Zardari and they nearly got their man in Memogate.

But the court route has a limitation, too: you need something to adjudicate on.

Corruption is a favoured, eternal hook in a quasi-functional polity and state, but the corrupt have a way of figuring out how to stay ahead of the system. They have to if they expect to stay in the game.

Then came Panama. But Panama was always a tenuous hook on which to try and hang the case of ouster. The iqama and the silliness of the NAB judgment have proved exactly that.

Judicially, the ducks haven’t been in a row from the beginning. Forcing them into a row seemed beyond unreasonable before the iqama excuse was unveiled.

Why bother with the knock to judicial reputation if NAB can be made to do the job and everything ends up back in the highest court anyway? The NAB stage may have exposed why: they have nothing.

So spurious is the NAB judgment that had things been the other way around, the NAB stage triggering ouster, the clamour against it may have been proved too much for the system to resist, for very long anyway. At least this way we’ve all been inoculated to and lived through the ouster already.

But that still leaves the question of effectiveness: will it stick and if so, for how long?

So spurious is the NAB judgment and so legally odd the iqama reasoning that in them you can already see the seeds of political and, eventual, legal rehabilitation of Nawaz.

Aha, but that’s why jail was the backup. Push too hard or beyond what the rules of the game allow and Nawaz would be sent to jail. But jail carries matters back into the political realm.

And with Nawaz, jail has been built on the weakest of judicial foundations. The case against him through its various iterations is basically a version of, well, of course he’s corrupt.

There is also the indelicateness of Maryam in jail.

The best political spin on incarceration for her is that she’s transparently a beneficiary of corruption. Look at where she lives and look at how she lives. But it is also demonstrably true, in a political sense, that Maryam hasn’t done the wealth accumulation herself.

How can she have? She hasn’t held a job in her life and she’s no Zardari the spouse, Mr Ten Etc. Maryam in jail hastens the process of eventual unmanageable public disapproval of Nawaz in jail.

Nawaz’ll have to stay in jail a while. A year, a year and a half, maybe two or more. But if the PM House is just a stop on the way to jail, jail is a stop on the way to the PM House.

So forget for a minute which side of the fence you’re on and assess this all from the value-neutral touchstone of effectiveness.

Is this working? Can it keep working? Ok, maybe you’re thinking that ouster and incarceration, however temporary, whatever the eventual outcome, are worth it here and now. At least there’s the satisfaction of seeing him ousted.

But is there real joy at a third exit, especially if a third exit may help him bag a fourth term. Love him, hate him, whatever your perspective, the ducks just won’t stay in a row. It’s the rest of us, you and me, the hapless lot, who are sitting ducks. Which brings to the carnage in Mastung. A benefit of this medium is occasionally running out of space. No comment on Mastung.

May God save us all, ducks included.

By arrangement with Dawn

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