WHEN the dust settles, it may be Nawaz who’ll emerge the winner. Because the court may have inadvertently handed Nawaz a lifeline.
Not bad for someone who wasn’t really in the news this week.
The best case scenario for Nawaz was pretty straightforward: the case against Shahbaz reopened and Imran disqualified.
An accountability trial of Shahbaz would have robbed him of the only clear advantage he has over Nawaz: no legal troubles.
Model Town could yet blow up the younger brother’s political career, but it’s still in the cat-and-mouse phase and there’s plenty of manoeuvring left.
A messy political world is about the best of political worlds for Nawaz right now.
Both the Sharif brothers popping in an out of accountability courts, though, would have put Nawaz’s troubles in a different perspective and may have won him further sympathy.
Imran being ousted would have been the greater gift. Because it would have cleared a path to a constitutional amendment to tweak the disqualification clauses — the quickest way back in for Nawaz.
The N-League doesn’t have the numbers in parliament to make that happen on its own and it won’t have the numbers even after the Senate elections or the general election.
But had Imran been ousted, bipartisan support would have materialised to fix what would have become a serious political problem for everyone.
An election without Imran is untenable and to rescue Imran, Nawaz would also have to be ushered back into the electoral game.
The best case scenario for Nawaz didn’t happen.
But there’s reason for cheer. Whatever the court insists, it’s descended into the muck of politics. That usually works to the politician’s advantage.
The cleverest thing the N-League has done in the whole Panama mess was to drag Imran and a key ally of his into the mess.
In a way, the court had been trapped. It waded into the Panama mess to ingratiate itself with the public by seeming to broker the calling off of Imran’s Islamabad lockdown.
But if the court was willing to hear a case against Nawaz, it couldn’t easily reject a petition against Imran.
The N-League was clever too in targeting Tareen. There’s enough shadiness around Imran for enemies to have their pick. But Tareen worked particularly well because of a London property connection.
It set up a nice comparison to Nawaz.
If Tareen didn’t survive, as seemed quite possible, it would have made both sides look roughly the same: PTI and PML-N both cut from the same cloth; Richie Riches doing what they always have done.
Imran’s stubbornness is a nice bonus. The PTI seems to have decided on a formula of formally stripping Tareen of party office but keeping him by Imran’s side.
Politically, that’s good for Nawaz. The N-League has managed to keep one word at the heart of the Sharif ouster story: iqama. A proxy for trivialness, bias and agenda.
Now, Imran seems determined to keep by his side the PTI’s version of ouster for allegedly trivial, biased and agenda-driven reasons.
The N-League will be pleased. It can point to Imran surviving and argue a double standard — legal intricacies that have the experts divided are hardly going to be understood by the average voter.
And it can point to a still-visible Tareen and argue that the PTI is saying the same thing that the PML-N has been arguing about Nawaz: trivialness, bias and agenda in the ouster.
A messy political world is about the best of political worlds for Nawaz right now. The messier the better, really.
The bigger favour may inadvertently have been done by the chief justice’s tirade.
Demonstrating that those outside the political realm don’t quite get the rhythms and rules of politics, the CJP’s staunch defence of his institution has flung open a door that many were itching to rush through.
Because to fiercely reject perceptions of judicial bias is to invite political and public debate that needed to be avoided.
The sensible thing for the court would have been to never venture down this road to begin with. That’s no longer possible.
The next best thing is for the court to find a way to extricate itself from issues that can have political ramifications. That may be hard to do because of an institutional shift.
One of the defining traits of the court of Iftikhar Chaudhry was to force unanimity on the big questions. Assemble all the justices in big cases and make sure they spoke as one.
It was a bad idea and made for bad law. To try and correct for that, Chaudhry’s successors have gone out of their way to respect differences of opinion.
In theory, it makes for better law. In practice, with the courts being asked to adjudicate in political disputes, it makes for controversy and confusion.
Controversy and confusion suit Nawaz.
Because great danger awaits in the accountability court. A trial court conviction and sentence are harder to undo and take much longer to get reversed.
But if the judicial process as a whole gets tainted or dragged into controversy, it makes it harder for courts higher up the judicial chain to not suspend a conviction on appeal.
And appeals then tend to get dragged out for years while the underlying politics is resolved.
The court for reasons internal to it embraced diversity of opinion. But in the political realm that diversity has created confusion.
And so, without realising it, the court may have handed Nawaz a lifeline. Not bad for a week in which he wasn’t really in the news.
The writer is a member of staff.
Published in Dawn, December 17th, 2017