Save the system!

Save the system!
In the considered opinion of the JIT, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family have amassed wealth beyond their declared sources of income; their defense is full of holes and lies; they are not good Muslims; they must be punished. Who can disagree with this assessment? We have a “system”. Surely it should prevail over an errant Prime Minister.

Never mind that the JIT report is full of gaping holes and overt bias. Never mind that the honourable judges sitting in judgement are not accountable. Never mind that the deep state conducting the investigations is not accountable. Never mind that the men of “piety” with flowing beards and the shrill media baying for blood are not accountable. Never mind the number of times we have heard this argument before to get rid of every elected prime minister since independence (twenty so far and still counting) before he or she can complete a full term without the “system” ever being held accountable. Never mind that the amassed wealth of all these pillars of the state — including gifts and donations from foreign ruling families — is beyond their declared sources of income.

In this wonderful “system” that must prevail over all else, the judges who enshrined the “law of necessity” legitimizing three martial laws, or the judges who sent a popular prime minister to the gallows and many others home, are not accountable. In this wonderful system that must prevail over everything else, the generals who ruled the country directly for over half its life since independence and lost half of it in the bargain, or routinely rigged key political parties and elections, are not accountable. The most incredible thing is that this wonderful system is self-perpetuating and there is not an iota of evidence that corruption is decreasing even fractionally as a result of its oversight. Even more incredible is the fact that “corruption” is such a “big” issue in the imagination of this powerful system that the wretched people of Pakistan have doggedly elected corrupt politicians to represent them in parliament whenever elections are held.

But let’s ask more fundamental questions. Are such “corruption” trials about “regime change” conducted to protect the vested interests of the deep state? Is the principal contradiction in Pakistan between an unaccountable deep state and a harassed civil society or is it between the people and the financial corruption of their political leaders?

According to the JIT, the Sharifs’ wealth was accumulated and laundered in the 1980s and 1990s. This is the period when, thanks to the deep state, instead of being held accountable for corrupt practices, Mr Nawaz Sharif was made chief minister of Punjab and exiled when he stepped on the toes of the deep state. He is now again for the chop – charged with corruption three decades ago — because he will not kowtow to the deep state’s vested interests today. In the same vein, Ms Bhutto was sacked in 1990 and then again in 1996 for “corruption”, revived in 1993 and 2007 when she agreed to play ball and eventually got rid of soon thereafter when she threatened to renege on her “agreement” with the deep state. In the 1980s, Mohammad Khan Junejo was blatantly sacked by the deep state that brought him into power without even the pretext of a corruption trial. Before Mr Sharif, the PPP government of Asif Zardari was lucky to lose only one prime minister at the hands of the deep state, barely survived in office and has now been reduced to a regional party whose leader prefers the safety of foreign shores to his abode in his home province of Sindh. Meanwhile, Mr Sharif’s flanks have been whittled away by the denouement of stalwarts like Mushahidullah, Pervez Rashid, Nehal Hashmi, Tareq Fatemi, et al who have aroused the wrath of the deep state.

Let us be clear. There is no doubt that the Sharifs have accumulated a mountain of wealth beyond their known sources of income. Equally, however, there is no doubt that this trial is really about “regime change” and only apparently about “corruption” as so often in the past. It was preceded by two dharna attempts to get rid of him, failing which an alternate route has been sketched – thanks fortuitously to Panamagate – to achieve the same objective.

Mr Sharif’s options are limited. He can choose to resist and be ousted ignominiously. Or he can resign on the pretext of higher “moral ground” and live to fight his case another day. In both instances, he can paint himself as a victim. The tricky question will relate to how his voters, and by extension his party workers, react to the manner of his exit. In 1993 and 1999 his defiance of the deep state made him a popular leader who encashed his victimhood in 2013. But this time, the deep state is aiming to knock him out for good and “save the system” because the stakeholders arrayed against him are more numerous, more united and more powerful.

Najam Aziz Sethi is a Pakistani journalist, businessman who is also the founder of The Friday Times and Vanguard Books. Previously, as an administrator, he served as Chairman of Pakistan Cricket Board, caretaker Federal Minister of Pakistan and Chief Minister of Punjab, Pakistan.