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A tale of two JITs..

By Qamar Bashir

On a fateful day in July 2017, the Supreme Court declared three-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif untruthful and untrustworthy for failing to declare his deemed income from his son, for whom he was an employee on paper. This decision was based on the findings of a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) formed in 2017 to look into corruption allegations against Nawaz Sharif and his family in the Panama Papers case. This report provided the Supreme Court with much-needed fodder to disqualify Mr. Nawaz Sharif from holding public office, a decision that the court allegedly had already made on behest of establishment but needed a shoulder from which to shoot its gun, which the JIT provided in the form of accusing Nawaz Sharif and his family members of several financial irregularities, including owning offshore companies and properties worth millions of dollars but not declaring them in their tax returns or wealth statements. According to the JIT report, Maryam Nawaz also submitted forged documents to prove the legality of the properties allegedly purchased by her family. Based on these findings, Pakistan’s Supreme Court barred Nawaz Sharif from holding public office and directed the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to charge him and his family members with corruption. The merit of the decision remained under discussion and criticism from many quarters. Nawaz Sharif who never accepted this decision termed it politically motivated and designed to weaken his party, legal experts argued that the Supreme Court had overstepped its bounds, and that the decision could set a dangerous precedent for future cases.

This was not, however, the first time Nawaz had been deposed prematurely. He was removed from office in April 1993, citing corruption allegations. On October 12, 1999, he was deposed for the second time by a military coup on charges of corruption, hijacking, and terrorism. He was deposed for the third time in 2017 on failing to declare certain assets in his election nomination papers, barred from holding public office for life and was removed as leader of his political party. On July 6, 2018, he was sentenced to ten years in prison in the Avenfield corruption case and his daughter, Maryam Nawaz, was sentenced to seven years. In December 2019, Nawaz Sharif was granted bail on medical grounds and left Pakistan for medical treatment in London. The Islamabad High Court later revoked his bail in November 2020, and he was ordered to surrender to Pakistani authorities upon his return.

Nawaz and Maryam both endured the decision and its consequences but neither forgave Imran nor Saqib Nisar. Recent events in Zaman Park provided them one in lifetime opportunity and both greedily grabbed it. Both did not waste a moment to charge Imran Khan as a terrorist and his party a terrorist party and without waiting a moment set up an JIT to investigate the charges having almost the same composition as that JIT which was formed against Nawaz Sharif. Nawaz Sharif’s posture during a recent interview demonstrated complete command. His body language and confidence in his voice clearly indicated that he was the mastermind behind the idea to use JIT as a proven tool to permanently fix Imran Khan. During his brief speech, he accused Imran Khan of harboring terrorists in his residence in Zaman Park, Lahore, and instigating a petrol bomb attack on law enforcement agencies, as well as attacking the courts with a massive crowd mustered by him and his coteries on every occasion of his appearance before the court as a tool to intimidate the judges into making any unfavorable decision. He did not mince words when he stated that this was the first time in the country’s history that political party workers had attacked law enforcement agencies with petrol bombs. He seemed in s rush to use the JIT report to label Imran Khan a terrorist and the PTI a terrorist party. He referred to Imran Khan as “the country’s biggest liar and fraud, a terrorist, not a politician,” and vowed that after the JIT report, the world would realize Imran Khan was not only a liar, but also a fraudster and a terrorist.

Why was a JIT formed against Imran Khan?. Nawaz Sharif with his proven ability to keep the grudge alive and never forgive the enemy is now using the proven weapon against Imran Khan to declare him ineligible to hold any public office for life. Perhaps everything is falling into place now. From the government’s perspective, the strategy of encircling Imran Khan from all sides and then physically or politically eliminating him from national discourse is working. In his most recent interview with GEO, the interior minister stated emphatically that the purpose of filing over 100 FIRs against Imran Khan is to wear him down, chase him out, and embroil him in court in various parts of the country in order to divert his attention away from politics and arrest and fix him for eternity at the first available opportunity. Ms. Maryam has vowed not to hold elections in the country until there is a level playing field. The government is using all powers thankfully bestowed upon it by Imran Khan himself when he dissolved both the Provincial assemblies of Punjab and, later, KP provinces, and willingly handed over his power bases to the government, leaving him vulnerable to attack without any administrative or security cover. Now that the PML(N) and its allies are fully empowered in the center and provinces, they can pursue Imran Khan in any direction they want.

One million dollar question however remained unanswered, why did Imran Khan dissolved the assemblies? did he made an error of judgment, did he fell willingly in the trap laid down by the government, when they offer his a bait that once the provincial assemblies are dissolved, the country would automatically enter into election mode and once they installed their own stooges as governors and chief ministers, they conveniently forgot about it and delayed the elections even at the cost of violating the constitutional provisions which necessitate holding of election with 90 days. Or, was this his most calculated and daring move, albeit full of risks, but he perhaps knows very well that the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward.

During our discussions in the Presidency, most of our colleagues described Imran Khan’s decision to dissolve the assemblies as hasty, lacking political wisdom, premature, and illogical. They believed that by doing so, he had rendered himself completely vulnerable and defenseless against administrative and political attacks by the government, which allegedly had the full blessing and support of the deep state. Other colleagues, however, were of the opinion that, while Imran Khan will pay dearly for his bold and unexpected decision, this is what great leaders do. If they make decisions based on common logic and common wisdom, they should become followers rather than leaders. Imran Khan’s decision to put himself in danger was an excellent political maneuver, but how?

The ultimate goal of all leaders and political parties is to gain power, preferably with a two-thirds majority, in order to put their manifesto into action and bring prosperity and progress to the country. This is only possible if the leader or political party has widespread public support. This was what exactly Imran Khan gained after he sacrificed his assemblies. Now he is enjoying widespread public support and sympathy from people all over the country and the world. In one of his interviews, when Hassan Nisar, a veteran journalist was asked, which one is the most popular political party, he replied in his usual candid style that PTI is currently holding first, second and third place, PPPP is holding fourth place and PML(N) fifth place all other political analysts and thinkers share the same opinion. On the other hand, all constituent parties of PDM are discredited due to allegations of corruption, mismanagement of the economy, and for the raison d’être of skyrocketing inflation, price hikes, rising rates of unemployment, historic depreciation of the currency, rising wave of terrorism, rockbottom industrial and agricultural growth which has lead to their total annihilation of public support and impending election defeat, prompting the government to launch all out offensive to eliminate Imran once of all and win back the country from his clutches and dole it out to their upcoming generation. But what if their goal of eliminating Imran proved elusive and will the newly constituted JIT serve the purpose?.

Let’s take a look at the chessboard. The government has all power pieces, including governments in all provinces and the center, the Election Commission, civil and military bureaucracy, and government resources to win people’s support and sympathy, as well as the combined political capital of thirteen political parties, but they lack pawns. Imran Khan, on the other hand, has nothing but pawns, both his own and those of the government. The government appeared to be in an advantageous position with power pieces, but the game is not over yet, as the player with the pawns can still use them strategically to block the power pieces and control key squares on the board. Furthermore, the player with the power pieces must be careful not to expose their king to attack while focusing on capturing the opponent’s pawns.

Imran Khan’s unconventional and risky moves have perplexed his opponents, who are accustomed to taking conventional and traditional moves devoid of creativity and foresight and expect the same from their political opponents. His ability to manage seemingly illogical decisions and convert them into success and ultimately winning the game is exceptionally well and proven, leaving his opponents in total disarray, helpless and incapable of making any cogent move to neutralize his non conventional and non traditional moves.

So far, so good; he has dealt with over 100 FIRs filed against him, successfully defeating and neutralizing many audio and video leaks to defame and discredit him, wriggling out of toshakhana, foreign funding and the Tyrian Jade Khan White case, and prudently providing defense to contempt of court cases. But how would he counter the latest JIT weapon, which has been assigned the task of declaring him a terrorist and his party a terrorist party? Perhaps he will blunt the JIT weapon in the same manner he has blunted the other weapons by the intelligent, smart and unconventional use of pawns to first contain the power pieces and later neutralize them one by one.

He is immune to any political attack by the government due to his wise use of people’s power. The government has realised that it is impossible to defeat him politically, andgoing to elections at this point of time when Imran Khan is riding on the high tides of popularity would be suicidal therefore it has chose to apply conventional solutions to first delay the elections, buy time, bait Imran Khan with additional temptations, incentivize him to make mistakes and then use the state power to arrest and eliminate him for political chessboard as, many other politicians were eliminated including first Prime Minister of Pakistan, Liaquat Ali Khan who was assassinated in 1951 while he was attending a public meeting in Rawalpindi, former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was executed in 1979 after being convicted of conspiracy to murder a political opponent, Benazir Bhutto, who served as Prime Minister twice before she was assassinated in 2007 while she was campaigning for the upcoming general elections, Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, who was assassinated in 2011 by his own security guard for his opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, Shahbaz Bhatti, the Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs, was assassinated in 2011 for his vocal opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and Imran Farooq, a senior leader of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), was assassinated in London in 2010. Is the formation of JIT one step towards achieving this goal? Or Imran will blunt this weapon as well with his unconventional and surprise moves.

Imran, who is riding unprecedented waves of popularity, is unlikely to slow down, no matter what weapon the government has at its disposal. Unlike other politicians who use politics to protect their vested interests and pass on their legacy to future generations, Imran has nothing to lose; he is capable of raising billions by campaigning for a greater cause, his philanthropic contributions are unparalleled, and, most importantly, he has no legacy to which he can pass on his political career. This is both a hot and cold fact. Hot because if he is removed, there will be no one to carry on his vision and passion, and his party, which he has spent over thirty years building, will likely be destroyed in no time. If he lives long enough, he will be able to serve another term in office before succumbing to aging. This leaves him with only five productive years to turn his vision into reality, and if the bus passes without him becoming prime minister in the next general election, he will most likely continue to give any government a difficult time for the next five to ten years, leaving the field exclusively for old timers and their political heirs. Perhaps the government parties are aware of this reality, so it is a matter of life and death for them to disqualify him from running for public office in the upcoming general elections, and the formation of the JIT brings them one step closer to achieving this goal.

Unfortunately, in this elephant war, the people of the country are being trampled mercilessly and without remorse by all those responsible for bringing the country to the brink of collapse. They are still settling personal vendettas against each other, fully charged with settling the score at the expense of the country’s financial and economic health and making the people struggle to make ends meet. There will be no stopping the march to annihilation and total destruction. We are all aware that the solution to the country’s quagmire lies in keeping national interests supreme, which primarily lies in upholding the constitution regardless of what happens. This simple solution is too difficult and impossible to implement when decisions are made to protect personal interests at the expense of violating the constitution, putting the country in dire economic and financial straits with no way out. And perhaps this JIT is also a good tool for settling personal scores while ignoring the risk of sending the country into another dangerous spiral.

The writer is the Former Press Secretary to the President

Former Press Minister to the Embassy of Pakistan to France

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