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Footprints: FRICTION IN THE COURTROOM

March 18, 2018

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A VIEW of the building where the trial of the Sharif family is being held.
A VIEW of the building where the trial of the Sharif family is being held.

“MIAN sahib, judge sahib has allowed you to leave, should we go?” Senator Dr Asif Kirmani asked Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader Nawaz Sharif, who was attending Thursday’s proceedings on a reference in the accountability court. Surprisingly enough, Mr Sharif declined the offer.

“Does it matter if we sit here, is there an issue?” the former prime minister asked his close aide.

“No sir, you can sit as long as you want,” Dr Kirmani replied promptly.

Dr Kirmani was perhaps taken aback by his party leader’s answer, which was why he then got up and moved to another side of the courtroom.

Mr Sharif sat in the front row with his daughter Maryam Nawaz on his right and Senator Pervaiz Rashid on his left. Other PML-N leaders including Tariq Fatemi and some female party leaders sat in the second row, while Chaudhry Tanvir, Barjees Tahir, Rana Afzal and Daniyal Aziz were seated in the third row.

There is room for three people in a row, on both the left and right sides of the courtroom. The right side of the room is reserved for the defendant, and the left for the prosecution.

Dr Kirmani had passed on the message from the accountability judge to Mr Sharif during an interval in the proceedings, after which Wajid Zia, the star witness in the references against Mr Sharif and his family, was scheduled to record his testimony.

Mr Zia, the additional director general of the Federal Investigation Agency, had led a six-member Joint Investigation Team comprising officials of the Inter-Services Intelligence, Military Intelligence, National Accountability Bureau, Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan and State Bank of Pakistan to probe allegations of money laundering against Mr Sharif’s family. The same team had uncovered Mr Sharif’s Iqama (residence/work permit) on the basis of which the Supreme Court removed him from the post of prime minister.

During the interval, Judge Mohammad Bashir, who was recently given a third term to serve in the accountability court, had left the courtroom. A slew of television reporters had followed so they could run news tickers on their respective channels. The handful of reporters who lingered back took the opportunity to strike a conversation with the ex-premier.

It is not unusual for reporters covering the Supreme Court, high court or trial court to attempt to interact with high-profile personalities, with hopes of getting a good story. But officials of spy agencies deployed inside the courtroom quickly passed on a message to Judge Bashir that Mr Sharif was holding a press conference in the courtroom.

The former premier was busy speaking to journalists, when lawyer Jahangir Jadoon told him that judge sahib had asked him not to hold a press conference with media persons.

A plainclothes official turned to a journalist and whispered something in his ear. This piqued Mr Sharif’s curiosity and he asked: “What did he say?”

The journalist replied that the senior superintendent of police wanted this conversation to end.

At this, a reporter clarified that they were not holding a press conference but an informal interaction, a routine practice which even the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chief engaged in when he appeared in the Anti-Terrorism Court, adjacent to the accountability court.

Mr Sharif turned and asked the plainclothes official what organisation he represented. The man replied that he worked for the Special Branch of the Islamabad police. “Do you really work for the Special Branch? Are you telling the truth?” Mr Sharif asked again. “Yes sir,” replied the official.

Seated next to the former prime minister, Senator Rashid quipped sarcastically: “I think your [reporters’] entry may be banned inside the courtroom.”

Though he appeared calm, Mr Sharif’s tone turned angry when he started speaking about the election for the Senate chairperson. That is when he said a GPS (Global Positioning System) had guided the Pakistan Peoples Party, the PTI, Muttahida Qaumi Movement, senators from the tribal region, and even some of his own party’s lawmakers to the Sanjrani House.

The reporters asked whether the GPS that Mr Sharif had mentioned was a reference to an institution. The ex-premier allowed himself a smile and said “you understand better”.

Soon the interval was over and the proceedings resumed. Mr Zia entered the courtroom with a broad smile on his face. He had with him three metal trunks and two suitcases. Previously, the JIT report was kept in cartons.

Back in the Supreme Court, Mr Zia had been given a hero’s protocol, but the situation in the accountability court was different. Defence counsel Amjad Pervez had objected to nearly every paper which the JIT head had brought before the court.

The smiling faces turned serious. Looking to provide some relief, the NAB prosecutor argued that the JIT was a commission; therefore, being a witness, he should not have to answer like an investigation officer.

At this, Maryam Nawaz commented: “It is like the captain of a cricket team claiming that he is not a cricketer.”

Published in Dawn, March 18th, 2018