Trial by JIT
THE Joint Investigation Team report in the so-called fake bank accounts case against PPP boss Asif Zardari has ostensibly revealed spectacular and irrefutable evidence against Mr Zardari and his financial partners. Perhaps the allegations in the report are true.
But — and this is essential from the point of view of fair and equal justice — it is imperative that whatever the allegations against Mr Zardari and his financial partners, they be proved in a fair, judicially transparent manner.
According to much media coverage of the alleged conduct of Mr Zardari and the companies said to be connected to him, the PPP boss is already guilty of the worst sort of white-collar crimes and corruption imaginable.
Once again, perhaps Mr Zardari and others in his circle have committed such crimes. But for now, the claims against Mr Zardari are allegations that have to be supported by judicially tested incontrovertible evidence.
A worrying aspect of the state’s behaviour towards Mr Zardari and others in his alleged circle of financial misconduct is that the accountability process against them so far has resembled the misbegotten approach in the attempted accountability of other people’s representatives.
The dramatic manner in which the JIT report was revealed in court, and before that the selective leak of contents of the report in sections of the media, could be interpreted as attempts to conduct a media trial and prejudge the outcome of the eventual trials of Mr Zardari and his alleged business partners.
In this era of apparent trial by JIT — PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif was declared ineligible for public office on the basis of controversial evidence unearthed by another JIT ordered by the Supreme Court — the normal process of investigation appears to have been short-circuited and circumvented.
While financial crimes are notoriously difficult to accumulate evidence of and successfully prosecute, the state’s overreliance on ad hoc JITs, whose very composition could suggest an anti-civilian, anti-politician bias, is a troubling trend.
Surely, in the presence of a hyperactive NAB and a federal government that has repeatedly vowed to give investigators and prosecutors whatever resources they need to effectively fight corruption, there ought to be no need for controversial, ad hoc JITs.
Just as difficult to explain is why not all JITs are treated equally. For example, the JIT formed to probe the activities of Rao Anwar has not resulted in action against the disgraced policeman.
It appears that while there is a fast track for JITs of certain relevance, a go-slow approach is visible in the case of other JITs.
The problem with such trends emerging is that not only does it not provide equal treatment by the state to all being probed, but the investigations against the political class also appear to become tainted.
There is an undeniable need for meaningful and across-the-board accountability in the country. But the JIT route is a flawed approach and should be reconsidered.
Published in Dawn, December 27th, 2018