A controversial investigation

Updated 04 Jul 2017

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AN ESCALATING controversy over the JIT probing the family of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif demands the urgent attention of the Supreme Court.

There are at least three problems with the composition and functioning of the JIT that have combined to cast a shadow over the entire process so far.

First, and most recently, a leaked still image of Hussain Nawaz, son of Mr Sharif, from a CCTV recording inside the room where the JIT is conducting its inquiry has ricocheted across the political and media landscapes.

There has been no explanation so far about how the image found its way into the public domain, why the JIT proceedings appear to have been recorded surreptitiously, and where the recordings are stored and who has access to them.

The JIT is effectively acting as an investigatory arm of the Supreme Court, and its findings could have a far-reaching impact on the country’s politics.

It is disturbing that a media circus appears to be tarnishing the sanctity of the judicial process.

Second, there are the as yet unexplained reasons for the registrar of the Supreme Court reaching out to several of the agencies that have supplied representatives to form the JIT.

It is to be expected that all court communications to government agencies will be properly documented and will scrupulously adhere to rules and norms in the conduct of such communications.

That standard does not appear to have been met in the informal calls made by the registrar — giving rise to serious questions regarding the unsolicited telephone calls over the internet.

Perhaps it was only a matter of laxity, but the court should explain why it occurred and directly address the worrying questions about undue influence on state agencies.

Third, there is the original problem: the inclusion of two members of military-led intelligence agencies in what are essentially financial matters that the JIT is probing.

Unlike the other nominated members of the JIT, the credentials of the two intelligence representatives do not appear to have been assessed for whether they are relevant to the matter before the JIT.

An unnecessarily deferential attitude was taken in a matter that should never have involved military-led intelligence representatives in the first place.

It is important to reiterate what is at stake here.

A historic set of hearings in the Supreme Court has for the first time probed the sources of income and wealth of a serving prime minister of the country and his family.

Besides the political future of the prime minister and his family, the integrity of the democratic process itself is being tested.

The Supreme Court is, therefore, the right forum to decide a matter of such profound implications. What is needed now is a reiteration that rules and the law will be scrupulously adhered to.

Published in Dawn, June 6th, 2017