NationalVolume 12 Issue # 21

Can the JIT rule against a mafia?

A smear campaign and threats from the government have forced the judiciary to call it a “mafia”. It appears the joint investigation team (JIT), which was set up and is being overseen by the Supreme Court of Pakistan, may not be able to withstand the pressure and threats and will fail to reach any conclusion against the ruling family in the Panama case.

A malicious campaign started against the judiciary when it decided to hear the Panama case last year. Government ministers ridiculed the judges outside the court, daily. However, their tirade has intensified after the court decided to form the joint investigation team after reaching a split decision. Two judges of a five-member bench found Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif guilty of corruption and money laundering and ordered him to step down. However, three others said a thorough investigation was needed to reach a conclusion. Consequently, it formed the joint investigation team.

Since then, the government has attempted to hamper its work and make it controversial. First, it objected to two members of the team for being partial. However, the court rejected the objection as premature and without any proof. Then, a vicious campaign was launched in the media, creating an impression that the Supreme Court of Pakistan had exceeded its power and expressed a bias in the selection of JIT members. Acting on the lines of Newsleaks, a story was planted in the media, which claimed the registrar of the Supreme Court had forced the State Bank of Pakistan and the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan to include specific names in the JIT. According to the fake news, a Whatsapp caller, introducing himself as the Supreme Court Registrar, told top bosses of the State Bank of Pakistan and Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan to include specific names in the panel to be forwarded to the Supreme Court’s special bench for the constitution of the JIT on the Panama case. “The caller gave the names of Amer Aziz to the SBP and Bilal Rasool to the SECP for their inclusion in the organizations’ respective panel of officers for the JIT on the Panama case against the prime minister and his children. According to one source, the caller also sought the name of Irfan Naeem Mangi from NAB, but it could not be confirmed,” it alleged.

The story was bogus on the grounds that the Supreme Court of Pakistan had mandated itself to chose the JIT members and it could have ordered any department to include any officer in the team. It is also a fact that the registrar could not contact any person on his own. If he had contacted the SBP and SECP heads, he must have done it on an order of the judges. However, the government tried to create an impression that the registrar was working on his own and the court wanted to target the Sharif family through the appointment of its handpicked officers as JIT members.

The nexus of the government and its favourite media group was exposed by the Supreme Court when it said it had itself formed the joint investigation team to probe the Panama scandal. “We have constituted the team and we are not afraid of consequences. The court itself had issued directions to the registrar for the constitution of the JIT,” Justice Ejaz Afzal said and warned that strict action would be taken for mocking the judiciary.

As if the media campaign was not enough, the judges, JIT members and their families were given life threats and warned of “dire consequences” by a ruling party senator for investigations against the Sharif family. This time, the ruling party used its senator from Karachi, Nehal Hashmi, who could never have dreamt of becoming a senator without the support of the ruling party. He repaid favours to the party by threatening “those carrying out investigations against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family members would not be able to live in Pakistan. Listen! You ask the son of Nawaz Sharif to submit details of bank accounts. Who are you to ask him about his account details? We are workers of Nawaz Sharif, those who have made the Sharif family accountable (earlier) and (those) doing so (now) will not be spared… we will make an example of them. You are in service today and will retire tomorrow. We, the Pakistani nation will make it difficult for you and your family to live in this country, like you are making it difficult for an honourable and conscientious Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.” After his threats to the judges and JIT members and their families, the prime minister asked him to resign from his Senate seat and his party membership was also suspended.

His tirade forced the Supreme Court to observe the government was acting like the Sicilian mafia. A special bench, set up to enforce the Apex Court’s April 20 judgment in the Panama leaks case, also decided to institute a contempt of court case against Nehal Hashmi. It is clear that he could not have threatened the judges and JIT members on his own; he must have been directed by the party leadership.

Irked by the court remarks, in which it called the government a mafia, a government spokesman said the comments were “against the code of conduct” of the court. In a statement, he said,” The comments made by the judge damaged Pakistan’s reputation and integrity internationally. The prime minister’s action against the PML-N member was neglected during the hearing. The record available in print and social media proved that the government had swiftly expressed its anger when Hashmi’s inflammatory speech came to light, which showed that the government’s policies were not in line with Hashmi’s remarks”. Expressing “deep regret” over the remarks, the government spokesperson said the SC judges had levelled “unfounded allegations” against the government.

It is an established fact that the ruling party has appointed its favourite people to head all national institutions. Heads of all departments are either relatives of the family or their close aides. It has conquered almost all institutions. The court was right when it called the government a mafia. However, the court’s observation shows the JIT members, who are government officers, may not be able to withstand the government’s pressure and threats and the accountability of the ruling family could remain only a dream for the people of Pakistan.