Not dead yet

Jul 16 2017


THEY’VE had their fun, they’ve brought us to the brink. The Sharifs have been damaged, embarrassed and humiliated. Nawaz has been politically diminished. Maryam is a punchline. Yay, amazing, awesome.

But we’re not there yet.

To get there — an exit stage left for Nawaz or dragged kicking and screaming — several things still need to happen. One of those things we now know, the JIT report, two we don’t know yet.

They’ll reveal themselves soon enough, so first the bit we know, the JIT report. As with all things to do with the boys, they brought a hammer to the proceedings when a scalpel was needed.

Devastating as the JIT report is, it’s kept the knife poised above Nawaz, not plunged it in.

That’s created a problem. How big we’ll only find out inside the court. But it’s already blown up outside. The report was always going to be controversial because it was going to be judged in three camps:

The PML-N; the PML-N’s opponents; and the democracy types who aren’t enamoured of Nawaz and don’t like the boys.

Nothing could satisfy all three. One side’s candy is another side’s meh. But if the JIT had been clever, it would have delivered something that left all sides a little unhappy — like diet ice cream.

But the JIT went whole-hog. It delivered a report that sent paroxysms of joy rippling through Nawaz’s enemies. It was breathless stuff. Did you hear what Maryam did? Do you know what Dar said? How stupid are those two boys of Nawaz? And that cousin, shameless man! OMG.

It’s so devastating that it’s ridiculous — and there lies the problem.

The JIT has disbanded but suspicions of its motivations have coalesced. From here, there’ll have to be a bit of cleaning up to do, to put things right. You can’t have an engineered ouster look so nakedly like an engineered outset. Not through the courts anyway. At least not these courts.

Nawaz and co have been so spectacularly awful in court thus far that they may screw up again, not knowing how to put to use the gift the JIT has given them. We’ll start to get an idea tomorrow.

But in a way the JIT report has already flipped matters around.

We know the court has factions. Two future chief justices have already denounced Nawaz and signed off on his ouster; three judges had reservations about the court being the vehicle and allegations the substance of ouster.

The JIT folk seemed to have missed that. Or maybe they thought a shove would work better than deferentially lighting the path to court-sanctioned ouster.

But now the reluctant ones will have to decide if they’re OK with being corralled. The star is the JIT and it may have burned too bright for its own good — the judiciary has been reduced to a sideshow in its own house.

For the reluctant ones, that could be the opening to get out of the mess they’ve found themselves in.

Chuck the matter into accountability courts and let the SC keep a watchful eye on proceedings — a process that would reassert the primacy of the judiciary. It would also, inadvertently, buy Nawaz some time.

And time is what Nawaz needs because of a curious hesitation that’s apparent in the JIT report.

They marched Nawaz to the edge, brought all of us to the brink — and then stopped. Devastating as the JIT report is, it’s kept the knife poised above Nawaz, not plunged it in.


Two future chief justices had already seen enough and decided Nawaz has to go. That’s a powerful signal right there. Why leave the door open for the reluctant three and maybe others too?

Why not just say we’ve got enough. No need for accountability, no need for references, just show Nawaz straight out the door. Now.

We can guess. Forget the contents of the report and think of the JIT as a proxy. For disagreements, factions and groupings elsewhere — among the boys themselves.

Work with that analogy a bit. None of them, the boys, are fans. It’s an article of institutional faith to be suspicious of Nawaz.

So the JIT report reflects that — a merciless pounding of reputation and public standing. On that there is unanimity.

But to recognise a problem doesn’t mean there’s agreement on the solution. In the lower, middle and upper ranks, emotionalism, machoism and manic nationalism can run rampant. The base wants Nawaz’s head on a stake.

The base is vital and the base is influential, but the base doesn’t make decisions. Those — decisions — are reserved for the very top, the chief and his closet advisers.

And at the very top, a different calculus applies. You have to juggle different priorities and manage different interests, internal and external.

At the heart of the endeavour to oust Nawaz has been a mystery: why is it so important?

They boys have figured out how to contain Nawaz and Nawaz hasn’t shown any signs of evolving into a master strategist to get some of his way on the national security and foreign policy stuff he cares about.

So why the desperation to oust him?

If you look closely enough, the desperation that everyone sees is hesitation at the very top. So the JIT walked us to the brink, but couldn’t plunge the knife into Nawaz.

Because the decision everyone fears has been taken is still being mulled. Nawaz isn’t a dead man yet.

The JIT may have inadvertently reminded us why.

Fantasy all of it? Possibly. Zero evidence of outside interference? Sure. The boys have played it clean throughout? Maybe. Nawaz got himself in trouble independently? Yes.

There’s one way to know for sure. We’ll start finding out in court tomorrow.

The writer is a member of staff.

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, July 16th, 2017