On not so historic a day, the Supreme Court of Pakistanâ€™sÂ rulingÂ on Panama leaks just fell short of what it was meant to be: a clear-cut verdict.Â The order for further investigation by a Joint Investigation Team (JIT)Â has, therefore, prolonged a controversy that has already consumed more than a year andÂ is likely to continue to inform Pakistanâ€™s political landscapeÂ for a few more months, or may be until the next general election due to be held in early 2018.
NotwithstandingÂ what the â€˜judgementâ€™Â says and regardless of the fact that it has fell short of disqualifying aÂ serving Prime Minister, there are larger questions involved, questions that have been largely ignored by both the opposition partiesÂ and the government.
While recent years have seen a number of JITs being established with regard to probing into the dynamics of violence in Karachi,Â the JIT in this regard involves a critical question about the state and strength of democracy in Pakistan and stands as a direct challenge to â€˜civilian supremacy.â€™
In this regard, the involvement of military intelligence agencies, such as Military Intelligence (MI) and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)Â in this JIT is setting a precedent wherebyÂ civil institutes areÂ once againÂ relegated to aÂ secondary position and non-civilian apparatus of the state gain unusual importance in determiningÂ issues thatÂ otherwise are ofÂ â€˜national importanceâ€™ but purely political in nature.
Therefore,Â far from being a historic decision,Â the verdict seems to be rootedÂ in Pakistanâ€™sÂ typical political dynamics whereinÂ military has always remained directly and indirectly involvedÂ in political matters and has yielded a sort of influence that goes far beyond its constitutional role.
In this context,Â the verdict has opened up a socio-political conundrum whereby not only will the Prime Minister of Pakistanâ€™s ordeal will continue but will alsoÂ seeÂ a fresh political tussleÂ between state institutes.
While it is ironic to see the highest civil instituteÂ of Pakistan expressingÂ aÂ lack of trust in subordinateÂ institutes and favouring the inclusion ofÂ non-civilian institutes,Â a student of the politicalÂ history of Pakistan is most likely toÂ see in this particularÂ verdict a continuity of theÂ (controversial)Â roleÂ that the Supreme Court hasÂ been playing since 1950sÂ in sanctioning a lopsidedÂ political landscape.
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Starting from 1954, for instance,Â the historic verdict of the Supreme Court that upheldÂ the then Governor General, Ghulam Mohammadâ€™sÂ unconstitutionalÂ dismissal of the first Constituent Assembly of PakistanÂ under the â€˜doctrine of necessityâ€™,Â the Supreme Court of Pakistanâ€™s history is a fascinating story of controversialÂ decisions—decisions that involve not only the hangingÂ ofÂ a prime minister,Â Zulfiqar Ali BhuttoÂ in 1978, but alsoÂ constitutionalÂ sanctioning of military regimes of Zia-ul-Haq (1977-1988) and Pervez Musharraf (1999-2008).
In this context,Â the apex courtâ€™s fresh reversion to the non-civilian institutesÂ should be consideredÂ to beÂ a political anomalyÂ rather than a healthy sign for the development of democracy and civil institutes.
Therefore, while a number of political pundits have argued thatÂ it will be for the first time in the country`s history that a sitting prime minister will appear before an investigation team probing allegations of financial wrongdoing, theÂ fact that theÂ involvement of the intelligence agencies in a purely financial inquiry would have serious political ramifications cannot be understatedÂ nor can it be simply looked upon as an â€˜all inclusiveâ€™ inquiryÂ aimed at ensuring transparency andÂ impartiality.
What, therefore, it would do is add to the political power of institutions which are not supposed to play any role whatsoever inÂ such matters in a democracy that Pakistan claims to be.
Similarly, if we stretchÂ the conundrum further to include the role political parties are themselves playing in this regard,Â what we see is a clear absence ofÂ anÂ anti-corruption discourse that goes beyond the resignation ofÂ a serving prime ministerâ€™sÂ andÂ that may involveÂ the question ofÂ larger institutional reforms.
InÂ the absence of such institutional reforms,Â the central problem that the wholeÂ Panama leaks has raisedâ€”the problem that long-standing political families in the country use the system to enhance their personal wealthÂ —Â will potentially stay unresolved and its long termÂ socio-political consequences largely absent.
Even a cursory look at the way this whole case has been publicly projected and fought on various frontsâ€”in the parliament, the roads and the Court—shows aÂ remarkableÂ focus on its being a duel between Nawaz Sharif, the sitting Prime Minister, and Imran Khan, leader of PakistanÂ Tehreek-i-InsafÂ (PTI).Â
With political partiesÂ themselves playing noÂ role in taking the question to the level of institutionalÂ reforms, what is left is a clear path for non-civilian institutesÂ — popularly assumed to be strong and corruption free —Â to steer themselves into straightforwardÂ politicalÂ matters of this and other sort and thus prevent the growth of democracy.
What, in this context, the Panama ruling has done isÂ that it has unmistakablyÂ reinforcedÂ Pakistanâ€™s perennial political conundrumÂ whereinÂ civil institutes,Â which constituteÂ the flesh and bone of democracy,Â remain weak and least worthy of attention of the main drivers of political processes i.e., political parties.
Salman Rafi Sheikh is an independent journalist based in Pakistan. His areas of interest include politics of terrorism, global war on terror, ethno-national conflicts, foreign policies of major powers, application and consequences.