Ducks not in a row

July 23, 2017


AND so we’re back to where we began: he may go, but it’s not likely he will. Not because he’s innocent but because he’s not been proved guilty.

Nawaz isn’t resigning and he sure doesn’t look resigned.

Forget what the kids have said and the associates have done and what the documents suggest. To get Nawaz and get him now, there’s three things that the court has needed.

Three things that have to be lined up perfectly — the evidence and the will. And for reasons no side has any interest in revealing, they’re the three hardest ducks to line up in a row.

The three things: evidence against Nawaz the individual; evidence against Nawaz the prime minister; and the will to oust a prime minister. And crucially — in that order.

If it were the other way round, it would have been straightforward. If the will to oust exists, the paths are many and the reasons plentiful.

Ouster the old-fashioned way is about getting rid of someone now and dealing with the future later. If they make a comeback down the road, you can deal with that situation then.

But Panama has been constructed the other way round: the sudden emergence of something that opened the door to thinking about getting rid of the chap again.

Crucially, it’s been built on the presumption that the evidence already exists, that the allegation is the crime. That all that’s been needed is a willing executioner.

Ouster the old-fashioned way is about getting rid of someone now and dealing with the future later.

In a way it has been about the puppets tugging at the strings above, trying to draw the master’s attention and pleading for a favour to be done to them.

And that created the triple problem.

The first is the evidence against Nawaz. Not his kids, not his father, not his associates. Him — the man himself. The apartments are his as sure as day is day and night is night.

He loves those apartments and anybody who knows anything about family patriarchs knows that he and he alone will decide who gets them and how they’re used.

You can also guess why. The apartments are a link to his father’s legacy, the original patriarch. As his generation’s patriarch, Nawaz has unified the apartments — to inherit and build on his father’s legacy.

But none of that matters. Because what is known anecdotally and boasted about politically is not how the law and the courts work.

There’s no need to even explain it — the gap between the formal law and the financial and social arrangements familiar to every Pakistani is vast and virtually insurmountable.

It’s why there’s an informal economy. It’s how the stock market works. It’s how the property sector inflates and collapses. It’s how the government pulls together its finances, for Chrissake.

The proud existence of the apartments and the fact that everyone knows who owns them changes nothing about what can be proved about Nawaz and those apartments.

So the base of the three-step pyramid is weak.

For the ouster lot, it gets better at the middle: the case against Nawaz the prime minister, not Nawaz the individual.

It gets better here because the evidentiary threshold can be made more flexible. Nawaz can be held accountable for the shenanigans of his kids because, duh, it’s not like they could have made much of that money on their own.

And even if they could, why would you skip out on all the money you can make if your family name is Sharif?

But the evidentiary flexibility against Nawaz the PM works in both directions: if it’s easier to assume the family wealth is all because of Nawaz and his position, it’s also harder to do something about it because he’s the prime minister.

He’s not some two-bit MPA or junior federal minister who can be cast aside and everyone just gets on with life.

Oust him now and you’re rocking the system. Past turmoil may suggest it’s easy to pull the trigger, but it really isn’t. There’s a queasiness that comes with it that even the brave struggle to deal with.

It’s why Musharraf only got three years straight after his coup. And it’s why even Iftikhar Chaudhry wasn’t able to get Gilani right away.

Nawaz the PM makes it easier to expand the definition of things he can be held responsible for, but Nawaz being the PM makes it harder to actually hold him responsible for those things.

And that brings us to the top of the pyramid: the will.

The franticness with which the puppets have tugged at the strings above them, begging the master to do what they are desperate for tells its own tale.

There is, in the very few centres that matter, an ambivalence about pulling the trigger. About cutting the string and letting Nawaz sink in the sea of accountability.

History suggests there’s two reasons for deciding to make a break: something substantive or something personal.

Oddly, Nawaz’s salvation this term has been that he hasn’t been much of a success. He hasn’t really done anything to threaten or enrage anybody. Sure, he’s wanted to but he hasn’t really tried to.

So the substantive part is out. Which leaves personality friction. With whom? Quick, name any of the three judges on the bench. When was the last time the CJP has been in the news?

Is Nawaz at war with his army chief or DG ISI? Friction draws attention. There hasn’t been much of it.

The ducks don’t look like they’re in a row.

The writer is a member of staff.

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, July 23rd, 2017