As the JIT approaches a court-issued deadline for the submission of its report, the attacks against it by the PML-N government have sharpened.
The strategy that has emerged is two-pronged: cooperate with the JIT to the extent of appearing before it when required while routinely lambasting in the media the investigation team’s composition and working.
The JIT itself has courted controversy with wide-ranging allegations against the government, but with the firm encouragement of the Supreme Court implementation bench, it appears to have more recently focused on completing the task assigned to it. Unhappily, the government has only escalated its attacks in recent days.
The most troubling aspect of the PML-N’s campaign is the suggestion that anti-democratic forces in the country are conspiring to oust an elected government. If that is indeed a possibility, the PML-N owes it to the country to come forward and provide proof of what it is alleging. Democracy does not belong to the PML-N or whichever government happens to be in power; it belongs to the people of Pakistan.
The dark allegations of the PML-N have also had the unfortunate effect of suggesting that accountability of the Sharif family is akin to putting democracy on trial. If anything, democracy will be strengthened by a fair and transparent accountability of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family.
Were Mr Sharif to be disqualified or his family members found to have engaged in corrupt practices, the PML-N would lose its parliamentary leader and the country would be without a prime minister. But even if it came to that, the PML-N would still have several democratic options before it.
The party could, for example, elect a new prime minister from its ranks in the National Assembly or it could opt for an early election. Disruptive and damaging as Mr Sharif’s possible exit may be for the PML-N, the democratic process would hardly be on the verge of automatic collapse.
Unhappily, the JIT’s early controversial conduct and the questionable circumstances in which its membership was selected have helped sustain the PML-N’s narrative of victimhood. Instead of the JIT recognising that the way it conducts itself could be used by the PML-N to taint the entire probe, the team has itself at times plunged headlong into damaging political terrain.
The shocking dossier that it submitted to the Supreme Court on alleged media criticism suggested an investigation team that is more concerned about how it is perceived in the media than interested in the terms of reference given to it. The PML-N’s allegations aside, the JIT has independently mired itself in unnecessary and undesirable controversy.
Once the latest round of interviews are over, the JIT must work to compile a fair report that adheres to the norms and rules that ought to apply to investigations with potentially far-reaching consequences.
Published in Dawn, July 4th, 2017