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Warning: learning curve ahead

Updated December 27, 2018

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The writer is a member of staff.
The writer is a member of staff.

A SMALL triumph of some sort has been scored, it seems, by sentencing Nawaz Sharif to a prison term and unveiling a damning JIT report against Asif Zardari and company. It is hard to muster up any sympathy for this duo, even as one can acknowledge the flaws in the system that is working overtime to push them out of politics.

One read through the JIT report makes two things apparent: the story told by the report of 32 ‘fake accounts’ and 11 ‘fake entities’ and the Rs42 billion that travelled through the web of accounts and shell companies that were “the modus operandi used for laundering proceeds of kickbacks, land grabbing, large-scale misappropriations of public funds, financial and other crimes” is consistent with what the personal experience of a lot of people has taught them.

It might be a challenge to make these findings play in court, since the direct links between the bank accounts with Asif Zardari and Faryal Talpur (both named among the 24 operators, beneficial owners, abettor and bankers) are tenuous. It is likely a court will require more direct links between them to be able to produce a proper judicial outcome.

Authorities will have to prove I deposited money into fictitious bank accounts: Zardari

But the court of public opinion is another matter. Over the years, JIT reports have been received with scepticism by the courts, and there is no telling what fate awaits this one once it lands before a judge and has to be raked over the legal requirements for evidence. But to lay people the schemes described are in fact simple, and, according to the report, were so large that two banks had to be erected for the purpose of carrying them out: Summit Bank and Sindh Bank.

Those with a memory might recall that at least one State Bank governor resigned rather than come under pressure to grant Sindh Bank a licence. He had an idea of what lay behind this demand, which at the time was being pushed hard by Fazlullah Pechuho, currently serving as secretary health in the Sindh government. With the governor’s departure ended the era of the State Bank being headed by strong and independent-minded governors, and we’ve seen weak and beholden men heading the organisation ever since.

Over the years, JIT reports have been received with scepticism by the courts but to lay people the schemes described are simple.

The prosecutors will undoubtedly need more material to make a conviction out of this, and the credibility of the JIT will be a factor as the report moves to court, but it will be a challenge to politically deflect the findings contained in the report.

Things are different in the other case, that of Nawaz Sharif and his imprisonment. Here the case is turning on legal judgements so technical in nature that lay people are hard-pressed to figure out what exactly the jail sentence is for. Yet for many it is still hard to see him as a victim, as his supporters want to say he is, because everything that is happening to him today is things he has done to others in the past.

There is an unwanted sense of déjà-vu about the moment today. Everything Imran Khan is doing today, Nawaz did back in the early 1990s. It took Mian Sahib a quarter century to learn the two errors of his ways: his collusion with the military and its plans for Pakistan’s political space, and his politics of pride and ego. The first was his undoing in his first stint. The second was his undoing in his second stint.

What we had in 2008 was a chastened, wisened Nawaz Sharif — supposedly anyway. He played his hand as an opposition politician with a little more discernment following his return from exile in 2008, not once questioning the mandate or legitimacy of the elected government, nor seeking its overthrow even in the darkest hour of the PPP’s rule.

Perhaps he learned that a colossal mistake was made in colluding at the outset with those who sought the overthrow of the infant democracy back in 1988. But it was too late. There is no shortage of those willing to play by the playbook of the early 1990s.

Whatever one may think of Nawaz Sharif though, he has a right to an appeal. His supporters argue that despite his past mistakes, one should evaluate the man on his present choices, and on that front he presents a far more mature and seasoned political choice compared to everyone else.

They also swear that he is not corrupt, has not been found to be corrupt despite all the court cases against him, and the courts are likely to reverse the adverse verdicts once a proper appeal has been given a chance to be heard.

By the way, were we not told in the case of Jehangir Tareen that we should wait till all the appeals have been exhausted before making up our minds about the man? Wasn’t that the argument made by PTI supporters back then? Perhaps the government can try to live up to this standard today too.

Fact is we have an old and ugly set of options before us. These politics and court cases are basically an elaborate theatre. The reality is far away, yet drawing closer every week. The government is living on borrowed time, and quite literally running on fumes.

The billions borrowed from our friends are buying us months at best. And the scale of the fiscal adjustment being demanded by the IMF means a lot of these politics of giving everybody what they ask for is going to end.

Pretty soon reality will hit this lot, and demands will press harder and harder upon them to deliver actual, real material outcomes, such as an increase in revenues, a rebuilding of reserves, a revival of growth. That is when we will see exactly what the emperor is wearing. And the politics of vengeance will not work at that point.

The writer is a member of staff.

khurram.husain@gmail.com

Twitter: @khurramhusain

Published in Dawn, December 27th, 2018