The Joint Investigation Team (JIT) appointed by the Apex Court of the country for investigating the money trail leading to off shore companies in Panama owned by Sharif family has proved to be a curious phenomenon.
It has representatives of the six federal departments as members but it goes without saying that its pivot is constituted by the members coming from the two intelligence agencies dominated by the army. As if this wasn’t enough, picking some of its other members through WhatsApp calls instead of normal means of official communication deepened the mystery further. But the unsettling conduct didn’t stop here.
The team which is faced with paucity of time for investigating financial records, investments and money trails through banking systems of different countries spread over long years actually found time to conduct a survey of “media mischiefs” that are “obstructing” the team’s work ! Interestingly the aforementioned survey even covered time before the JIT had come into being. A signature of the deep state? Is it really surprising? Hasn’t a cycle of 7 to 8 years of Bonapartist intervention existed in the country’s history? Enjoying sanction of the Supreme Court and authority of the deep state the unfolding curious conduct of the JIT is turning into a syndrome.
The struggle between champions of controlled democracy (the deep state) and elected political governments upholding the 1973 Constitution has been a permanent feature of Pakistani politics in the post-Zia “republic”. The musical chairs game of the 1990s was just a reflection of this contradiction, when major political parties in opposition would lend their shoulder to the powers that be for overthrowing the government of political party in power. Launching “long march” was the a classic strategy for destabilising the sitting government and creating conducive atmosphere for the intervention of the deep state.
The situation changed to certain extent when PPP and PML-N signed the Charter of Democracy in 2006 under which they committed themselves to refrain from the unconstitutional practice of overthrowing the elected government. This was the context for the beginning of a new era of democracy in 2008 when an elected assembly could complete its constitutional term for the first time in Pakistan’s history. Everything wasn’t completely hunky-dory though. There was “ Memo gate” for the then PPP government and “Dawn leaks” for the current government. But these pressure tactics remained short of overthrowing of the sitting government.
Another important development in favor of strengthening the democratic process was the 18th Constitutional Amendment passed by the parliament in 2010.
Through this amendment democratic political forces made an effort to take the distortions and deformations out of the 1973 Constitution that were imposed on it by the martial law regimes of General Zia and General Pervez Musharraf. The 18th amendment further strengthened Article 6 by adding that the suspension of Constitution was an act of high treason. Previously, it was only the abrogation of, or threat to abrogate the Constitution that was regarded as act of high treason. So now even an adventurist can’t suspend the country’s Constitution and get away with it. There has to be more “creative” thinking for implementing the agenda of regime change without attracting action under Article 6 of the Constitution now.
The serious dilemma for Pakistan is that it is faced with the challenge of rampant corruption but the country’s ruling elites have failed to build a credible constitutional mechanism for carrying out across the board accountability. There have been and there are holy cows (both civil and military) that enjoy impunity. The culture of patronage and plunder has seriously undermined the credibility and legitimacy of elected political governments. Interestingly, three out of four full-fledged martial laws were imposed using the corruption issue as one of the main justification for military’s intervention in politics but those regimes also indulged in more corruption. So far the issue has been exploited for political point scoring but no one has come out with a tangible solution for it.
The Panama papers that were leaked more than a year back exposed the owners of off shore companies, a fact not in public knowledge before that. The list included hundreds of Pakistanis. It is true that no one from Pakistan was involved in hacking the computers that leaked the information, but the way the entire process of accountability has been kept strictly limited to one family only creates serious questions. There is a clear method in the madness. Everyone else, including a high court judge remains unacceptable. The irony has further deepened by the safe exit of General Pervez Musharraf who is facing charges of high treason for abrogating the Constitution.
But it’s important to mention the fact that the PML-N can’t be absolved from the responsibility of weakening the democratic system by marginalising the elected Parliament. It has bypassed the elected houses in policy making and the vacuum thus created is filled by unelected institutions. Democratic political forces have to act before it’s too late. They have to evolve a consensus on a credible system for accountability and continuity of democratic system. No one should forget that political parties will ultimately have to face the people’s JIT.
The writer is a retired Senator and an analyst of regional affairs.