With the Panama Papers investigation in full swing, the recently formed controversial JIT is in the midst of conducting its proceedings. The highly publicized case is at the helm of a protracted tug of war for political supremacy between the ruling party and its opposing coalition. Yet, in an unprecedented instance an elected prime minister appeared before the country’s institutions to give reply to the many allegations and questions raised on his involvement in a major money laundering case.
Before the meeting took place, the PM met his close aides including Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar, Defence Minister Khwaja Asif, and other senior advisors before his Panama JIT appearance. The Punjab Chief Minister and brother to the PM, Shahbaz Sharif, also decided to go along with the prime minister to the Federal Judicial Academy, where the case proceedings are taking place. While Dar briefed the PM about the possible questions the six-member panel may ask, Nisar apprised him over the security arrangements made around the FJA for his meeting. A large number of personnel of police, traffic police, Special Branch, FC and Rangers were deployed, with additional snipers on the rooftops of buildings around. A bullet proof dais also replaced a wooden one outside the building where PM Nawaz addressed the media. Its almost as if the PM had prepared for war.
PM Nawaz was supposed to appear before the JIT as a ‘normal citizen’ of Pakistan, a fact that the ruling party PML-N has never let anyone forget. But the protocol, ministerial advice, and the support of party members that PM Nawaz received upon being present for questioning by the JIT was akin to a well orchestrated message of assurance sent to opposers and supporters alike: next year’s election is the real JIT, and PML-N still retains its pole position of power. It was a response to all those in Punjab and beyond who believe that the Panama case has put a dent on the Sharif family’s ability to cement their hold on politics of today and tomorrow. Moreover, the JIT meeting was used by the PM to symbolically portray himself as a law abiding concerned citizen waiting to be cleared on the doors of justice.
Yet, the other side of the story spells the opposite of what is being publicly portrayed. The very validity of the JIT formation has long been questioned by PML-N members and other media personnel, but more recently is being cornered into early redundancy. To start with, the JIT members have constantly been questioned on their loyalty, motives, and agenda- giving them an identity outside their institutional affiliations. The members background has been extensively researched by the media and political circles alike. On the other hand, any jurisdiction the JIT has put on checks and balance has been shown as ‘going against the law’, which in some cases might be an accurate observation. For example, there are reports emerging of the JIT tapping phones, having witnesses followed, and accusing public institutions of tampering with primary evidence.
In truth, the JIT is in a precarious position- an eventuality that the Supreme Court should have foreseen. According to many the Panama papers case judgement made by the Supreme Court was half-hearted and carefully crafted as to not get embroiled in a political battle with the ruling party and its supporters. Which meant that the brunt of the investigation fell on the shoulders of civil officers whose rank, career, and life might be in jeopardy if a wrong threshold is crossed. In fact, in a way the Supreme Court has cleaned its hand off any direct involvement, but still retains its jurisdiction in decisions.
With so much at stake, no one knows what root the final judgement will take. While it is true that the JIT has a lot of technical and legal evidence to sift through, one thing’s for sure- with a case this controversial but also this complicated- the judgement might not be as black and white as we expected.