Najam Sethi in The Friday Times
Imran Khan’s chum for all seasons, Zulfikar Bukhari, is one of the Panamagate accused who is being investigated by NAB for money laundering. He was on ECL. Accordingly, the FIA offloaded him from a chartered aircraft scheduled to take the Great Khan to Saudi Arabia for Umrah. But one phone call from Imran was all it took for the interior ministry to immediately grant Zulfi a “one-time special exemption” allowing him to exit. The rule is that all ECL cases are put up before a special committee of the interior ministry for decision and NAB is then informed of it. It is incredulous that such a special committee was either constituted in seconds, deliberated for a few more seconds and ruled to grant such an exemption or was simply dispensed with altogether. Under the circumstances, it is worth asking whether the interim prime minister was informed and permission sought and what arguments, if any, were noted on the file for such an extraordinary use of discretionary powers without the sanction of a court or under intimation to NAB.
Consider, also, the case of General (retd) Pervez Musharraf who is legally classified as a “fugitive from justice” because he has been “absconding” from his various trials for treason, murder, etc. The then Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, had allowed him to leave the country for “medical treatment” on the request of the then army chief, Gen Raheel Sharif, after assurances in court that he would return to the country within the month to face the various trials. When he refused to obey countless court summons for over two years to return and face the music, the government cancelled his Pakistani passport facility. Now he says he wants to return to the country and contest the elections and the Supreme Court has ordered that all hurdles in his path be removed. Emboldened, the good General has demanded that he should be given pre-arrest bail in absentia. It may be noted that for all the years that he was on trial in Pakistan, he never spent even a second in “jail” because his five star residences in Islamabad and Karachi were duly declared “sub-jails” by the courts when he wasn’t luxuriating in vvip suites in vvip hospitals for treatment of unknown maladies.
Nawaz Sharif, on the other hand, hasn’t been so “favoured’. He was swiftly disqualified from being prime minister because he didn’t reveal a source of unreceived income from his son. He is on ECL and permission to visit his ailing wife in London is given only niggardly. He has been compelled to attend hundreds of court hearings. Not a single plea of his lawyer for adjournment has been accepted. Indeed, in a strange twist of legal logic, the NAB court has held that it will hear each of the three cases against him separately but give a judgment in all three at one and the same time. Now the SC has ordered the court to wrap up the cases and decide before the elections, regardless of the status of the examination and cross-examination of witnesses, and unprecedentedly ordered the defense lawyer to attend the court on Saturdays and Sundays as well. The lawyer has refused and withdrawn from the case, compelling Mr Sharif to protest while casting about for another competent lawyer familiar with the case.
Pundits predict that the court will return a plea of guilty against Nawaz Sharif in at least one of the cases and knock him out. They also predict that General Musharraf may be allowed to contest the elections regardless of the treason and murder charges and his truant behaviour as an absconder from justice and helped to win a seat. The fate of the expected disqualification petitions against Imran Khan (for fathering an illegitimate love-child in the USA) in all the five constituencies in which he is contesting across the country may also be foretold. The ECP and courts will doubtless find arguments to quash the truth of the loudest whisper in the country. Last but not the least, Reham Khan’s account of her ex-husband’s “exploits”, that clearly violate the sanctity of the very constitutional provisions 62/63 under which Nawaz Sharif was sacked and is now being prosecuted as a fugitive from justice, will be trashed by a complaint media and banned from public consumption by the courts.
There is a political consensus among the various state institutions that comprise the Miltablishment that Nawaz Sharif cannot be allowed under any circumstances to return to power and Imran Khan must be elevated to the prime ministership, come hell or high water. Towards these ends, the Miltablishment has engineered the Senate elections to its satisfaction and is now primed to achieve “suitable” results in the general elections. Meanwhile, the popular will is tilting against this brazen exercise of fascist power.
Fair is foul and foul is fair. This electoral exercise will go down in Pakistan’s constitutional history as the greatest robbery of all times, with dire consequences for state and society.