Even if the JIT gives obvious proof against Nawaz, the ECP must be allowed to decide.
The moral and practical cases are clear. The Prime Minister must himself quit, joint investigation team (JIT) report apart, as for months he has failed to prove legitimate his family UK flats. While his sons are the owners, his role as clan head and recipient of big gifts from them morally cripples him. Sordid details of alleged huge wealth are shamefully out in public. Distracted, he cannot govern and will damage Pakistan and its democracy.
But he may quit only if he feels the Supreme Court will fire him. The court started an inquiry based on mere though strong suspicion via its wide 184(3) optional powers. Many had criticised this unprecedented act. But it has so far docked a sitting Prime Minister and the precedent is established. Thus, such inquiries will now be seen as useful action templates against others. However, the scope of 184(3) in such cases must be defined to avoid swamping the court that must coax the government to make National Accountability Bureau (NAB) stronger to keep its own role exceptional. While that happens, it must also ensure that others accused of titanic crimes, for example, Zardari, Musharraf and Altaf, are tried soon to dispel any charges of judicial selectivity.
Even with Sharif, sticking to the law or strong precedence is important to avoid political upheavals. This means conviction only after a fair trial in a trial court, even starting trial only if the JIT report goes beyond suspicion towards physical evidence.
The law gives the right to disqualify to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) but some lawmakers have been disqualified directly by the courts, mostly where guilt could be shown easily sans trial, for example, degrees proven faked. Even if the JIT gives obvious proof against Nawaz, the ECP must be allowed to decide. If he is not disqualified, then we may hit rough weather if the PTI starts street protest spread over months without result like in 2014. Irrespective, Pakistan will remain in limbo till the next polls. Sharif can spare us all this by resigning.
Pakistan is seeing real accountability of its top leaders for the first time, invariably under democracy. In weeding out corrupt leaders electorally and now legally, a nine-year-old flawed democracy has shown its edge over 40 years of unelected rule.
Had we stuck to democracy instead of looking towards Pindi, things would have been much better politically today. Some claim that this affair stems from the security establishment wanting to pre-empt a meek Sharif from being more assertive once he gains a Senate majority and a fourth term. This idea cannot be rejected outright. But neither can it be accepted without proof, which may be impossible to get given their opaque ways. In the past, they have acted against civilians not toeing their line. Are they now so bold and proactive to act against a future uncertain threat?
It is tough to form even initial views on this issue. Such rumours, even if true, must not stop Sharif’s trial. But they make it more crucial that the trial meets high standards of proof and process. The rule of law means not just that crooks are tried but also that the trials are fair.
Sharif’s exit would not end civ-mil tensions, which are rooted in the simple reality that Pindi’s security policies run Pakistan. Political rulers soon grasp this reality and resent so many critical calls being off-limit for them. This starts a tug of war between the twin cities. We know about generals (wrongly) betraying their civilian benefactors: Ayub, Zia and Musharraf. But civilians (Bhutto and Sharif) groomed by the security establishment have (rightly) turned against it too. The same may happen with Imran, even if he now has the Army nod. The man is not money hungry like Sharif, but power hungry and hates sharing power and limelight more than Sharif. So ties between him and the security establishment may not be easy if he wins. His victory is iffy even if both father and daughter are barred. The Sharifs are a big clan and some will survive legally to run. The PML(N), representing strong Punjabi groups, will not disappear like PML(Q). But the two right-wing Punjab parties may become more even politically.
Some say Panama will end sleaze in Pakistan. Sleaze originates from the needs of vast sections of our economy. With billions of dollars of capital flows coming from China, which is only slightly less corrupt than us, the needs of much of both local and foreign capital will encourage sleaze and low rule of law (barring security). Morally speaking, sleaze must end. But the moral lens is only prescriptive, not predictive like social sciences lenses. However, the former is proactive, the latter passive. Only by using both can we tackle sleaze. The bi-lens view reveals long-term democratic struggle as the best tool against sleaze.
By arrangement with Dawn