NationalVolume 12 Issue # 12

Government in the dock

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leaders have started criticizing the establishment and the Supreme Court of Pakistan after hearing in the Panama case has entered its final stages. They are trying to create an impression that the court had taken up the issue at the prodding of the establishment to punish a “defiant” prime minister. The tactics aim to mislead the people, who have reached the conclusion through daily talk shows that the ruling family has no incontrovertible proof of its innocence in the case. It is also meant to put pressure on the court to stop it from ruling against the prime minister and his children. The establishment is being maligned to settle some old scores.

In a recent interview to a news channel, Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said the Panama case was the brainchild of the establishment to discredit the prime minister. He recounted the “crimes” of the establishment against former Prime Ministers Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto and said they were prosecuted in courts and alleged the same approach was being adopted against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. He also threatened the court by saying that the people of Pakistan would not acquiese and take to the streets if the ruling family was convicted in the case. Earlier, he said the performance of military courts was not up to the mark, after their two-year term expired. After it, the Inter-Services Public Relations, the media wing of the army, had to issue a press release to highlight the performance of the military courts, which were set up after the launch of the Zarb-e-Azb military operation against rerrorism.

The minister’s statement against the military courts also found reproof during Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s visit to the Kharian garrison, when he said, “There will be no compromise on the dignity of the Pakistan Army”. The military didn’t specify the context of the statement, but the media, quoting military sources, said the army chief was responding to questions from military officials about Rana Sanaullah’s criticism of military courts.“Adormant inquiry” into the government-military newsleaks controversy is still hanging fire. The security establishment believes a “fabricated story” was fed to the Dawn newspaper by government officials to malign the military. Following angry reaction from the military to the story, the then information minister, Pervaiz Rashid, was asked to resign and an inquiry was ordered. There were also rumours in the media that jobs of some senior bureaucrats serving at the Prime Minister’s House were also on the line. However, the government put the case in cold storage.

In November 2016, the government set up a seven-member committee, headed by Justice (retd) Aamer Raza Khan, to probe the matter and fix responsibility. The head of the inquiry committee has close relations with the Sharif family and he has already delayed the case for two months. Its findings may also be rejected by the opposition and the quarters concerned. Analysts believe if the security establishment refused to relent, some officials of the Prime Minister’s House might be scapegoated. The ruling party believed the leaks controversy would die down with the departure of Raheel Sharif from Army House, but it has not happened. General Qamar’s statement has unnerved the ruling party. The security establishment is reportedly not happy with the government’s attempts to hush up the row triggered by the publication of the planted news story.

In a deliberate attempt to push the Supreme Court and the establishment on to the back foot, senior politician and ex-PTI leader Javed Hashmi said that during the dharna movement in 2014, PTI Chairman Imran Khan had made a deal with the then chief justice of Pakistan to come to power. In an interview, he claimed the PTI chairman had made a deal with the chief justice under which it was decided that judicial martial law would be imposed in the country and the PTI would be declared winner after elections. Hashmi, who has survived a stroke and still struggles to speak, said the information was provided to him by Imran Khan himself.

In another TV interview, Hashmi also accused Lt Gen (retd) Tariq Khan, who was the Mangla Corps Commander at the time of the PTI Islamabad sit-in, of being involved in a planned coup against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 2014. There has been no response to his allegations from the judiciary, but Lt. Gen. (retd) Tariq Khan said that army bashing was being done at the behest of some “unscrupulous scoundrels.” In a strongly-worded statement on WhatsApp and Facebook, the ex-army commander refuted Hashmi’s claims and asked the government to initiate an inquiry into the allegations. According to sources, Hashmi is working on the advice of the PML-N leadership to malign the judiciary and the military. Federal Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique and Punjab Law Minister Rana Sana have publically endorsed Hashmi’s allegations. If the government believes the charges are true, it should order an inquiry to ascertain the facts.

In his diatribe against the judiciary,PML-N MNA Talal Chaudhry, who defends the prime minister and his family in the Panama case in the media and after court proceedings, asked the Supreme Court not to adopt “double standards” in cases between the PML-N and PTI leaders. “I want to ask whether the court has different standards for the PTI and the PML-N. We have also filed references against Imran Khan and Jahangir Tareen but the court is delaying them. I want to ask whether the cases will also be heard daily, like the Panama case,” he told the media in a recent talk outside the Supreme Court. It appears the government has devised a plan to put pressure on the court and the army in the Panama and newsleaks cases, respectively. However, it has not much to prove its innocence in both cases and the offensive will backfire, like the treason case against former President Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf.