Never a dull moment is a cliché routinely applied to Pakistani political culture. Pundits and laymen, alike, have long been witness to phlegmatic politicos bewailing, from their rooftops, of Pakistan’s irascible and intrusive ‘establishment’ turning the screws on them at will. But Pakistani politicians’ addiction to painting themselves as ‘innocent victims’ of ‘conspiracies’ hatched against them by the notorious ‘establishment’ now seems blasé; it has been replaced by a new tug of war between them and, according to their tale of lament, a proactive higher judiciary.
The ongoing saga of an intense battle of nerves traces its provenance to last summer when, on July 28, Pakistan’s apex court pronounced the sitting PM Nawaz Sharif unfit to remain a member of the parliament and, thus, disqualified him, under the provisions of the constitution, from continuing as leader of the country. It wasn’t the first time that Pakistan’s Supreme Court had sent a PM-in-office home, packing. Six years earlier, the then PM Yousuf Raza Gilani, had been knocked down from his pedestal for disobeying the orders of the apex court. At that time, curiously, Nawaz, then inopposition, had hailed the court’s verdict against Gilani as a victory for the rule of law. The charge against Nawaz— one of corruption, nepotism and money laundering—was much more serious and his trial had aroused unprecedented public interest. However, when Nawaz found with his own neck caught in the chicken coop, he started crying foul. From that moment on, he, his politicallyactive daughter Maryam and a coterie of close confidants ridiculed in Pakistan’s vibrant social media as ‘Ali Baba’s gang of thieves’ haven’t relented— not for a moment—from portraying themselves as victims of a gross conspiracy hatched against Nawaz by a new team of ‘conspirators’.
Reference to ‘conspirators’ in the jargon since given currency by Nawaz and cohorts denotes a new combine of the establishment and top judiciary. The slogan raised by Team Nawaz from every pulpit is that the aim of the ‘witch-hunt’ against Nawaz and his children—who are implicated in many cases of money-laundering due to the revelations unearthed by the Panama Papers—is to strike a blow against democracy. Nawaz and Maryam, whose ambition to inherit the mantleof her disgraced father is Pakistan’s most open secret, are portraying themselves as crusaders fighting to ward off predators hell-bent, according to their narrative, on bringing down the citadel of Pakistani democracy. However, in the context of Pakistan’s tortuous roller- coaster ride as far as democracy is concerned, Nawaz’ credentials are highly dubious and suspect.
Nawaz has a deeply flawed political pedigree. In fact, he has no democratic pedigree at all. The scion of a traders’ family, Nawaz was picked out, untutored and callow, by a military colleague of the then military dictator, General Ziaul- Haq, and groomed as a loyal minion of that ‘establishment’ which Nawaz now feigns to denounce as anti-democratic. This self-styled crusader of democracy learned his ropes under the wings of Pakistani Bonapartes. His own style of governance has been anything but democratic or collegial. His detractors have routinely lambasted him for nurturing ambitions to become Pakistan’s uncrowned ‘emperor.’
Add to this caricature his and his family’s well-known weakness for amassing unaccountable wealth—billions of dollars, according to conservative estimates—and what you have is an autocratic wolf in sheep’s clothing. Friends and foes alike are miffed and perplexed by his unbridled campaign to publicly denounce the judiciary as an ‘enemy’ of democracy and criticise the chief justice and other justices of the apex court. Equally bewildering to pundits is the nonchalance of the top court in not hauling up Nawaz and his garrulous daughter for contempt of court. Why, they argue, is the court giving Nawaz & co. such a long rope?
The apex court, according to some ace legal minds and experts, has taken due note of Nawaz’s regular diatribes and campaign of vilification but wouldn’t charge him with contempt for a good reason. Their ‘good reason’ is that they’d rather have Nawaz and his children— his two sons are on the run from law and have been declared absconders—found guilty of corruption by the country’s Accountability Court where half a dozen trials are under way against them. The apex court may have sound logic in not punishing Nawaz and his cohorts for contempt because that might give them a handle to pose as ‘martyrs’.
The punishment by an accountability court for corruption would send the impugned to prison for several years and put them out of politics for good. But while the apex court’s logic makes perfect sense to the enlightened it mystifies the layman who can only see battle lines between the governmentin- power—still made up of Nawaz’s minions—and the court getting ever more visible and sharper. An overly proactive Chief Justice Saqib Nisar has been adding colourful dimensions and drama to the tussle between his court and an executive still at Nawaz’s beck-andcall by tightening the screws on a lax and corrupt political regime.
He has won the hearts of the downtrodden by taking frequent suo motu notice of delinquency of service by the executive. The common man reveres him for publicly scolding ministers for their failure to deliver. He leaves politicians in no doubt that he’s there as a guardian of public interest. The CJ may miff traditional politicians. They may hate him but legions hail him as their hero. And true to its reputation, there’s never a dull moment in Pakistan.