Half victories

Published December 1, 2023

THE entire point of an independent judiciary arises from the need for neutral arbiters who can determine, through objective assessment of facts and a dispassionate interpretation and application of the law, whether any member(s) of society has broken the social contract.

It is our great misfortune that our justice system repeatedly fails on this count. Nowhere are the implications of this failure more evident than on the political stage, where careers are made and ended on court cases that seem to be decided not on facts and laws but on the whims of the powers that be. The latest such example is the exoneration of PML-N supreme leader Nawaz Sharif in the Avenfield case.

The charges brought against him had seemed enough five years ago for the judiciary to convict him and end his political career but have now disappeared at the stroke of a pen. Were the judges wrong then, or are they wrong now? It is a pity that it depends on whom one asks.

In a just society, innocence — especially in cases involving allegations of moral turpitude — cannot be a matter of perspective alone. Mr Sharif’s position has not been helped by the fact that the case against him has been dismissed because NAB, which had once relentlessly hounded him and his family, suddenly has no interest in prosecuting him.

People will ask what prompted this change of heart and wonder if it had something to do with Mr Sharif’s perceived status as the ‘new selected’; few will bother to consider the weaknesses of the original case.

Therefore, while the PML-N supremo may have technically been deemed innocent, the shadow of his conviction will continue to linger and may even turn against him in case he steps out of line again.

It would have been far wiser for Mr Sharif to have returned to the country much earlier to fight his legal battles and secure a more compelling victory in them.

It would have established some distance between his acquittals and the accusation being made by other parties that the state is going all out to skew the playing field in favour of the PML-N. But perhaps Mr Sharif knew better than to have faith in a system that had failed him thrice.

If one considers where his primary rival, PTI’s Imran Khan, is today, Mr Sharif cannot be considered irrational for lacking faith in the judicial process. The treatment being meted out to Mr Khan parallels what Mr Sharif was forced to endure some five years ago.

In the former’s case, too, it seems to matter little what the facts and the laws say. And this, again, is the tragedy of the Pakistani judicial system: that justice is rarely ever seen to be done.

Published in Dawn, December 1st, 2023

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