BREVITY, like wit, is the soul of haiku. Haiku is a form of Japanese poetry in which each poem is limited to three lines, with no more than 17 syllables in all. Haiku was not invented by lawyers.
The advice of the ancients — ‘Let all mortal flesh keep silence’ — is not to be found in the catechism of the legal profession. To judges and lawyers, the quest for truth and justice demands hours of debate, paragraphs of analysis and introspection, and a forest of trees pulped into reams of legal-length paper.
The public was not surprised therefore when the published text of the recent Supreme Court verdict on the Panamagate case was spread over 549 pages, containing 94 paragraphs and nearly 175,000 words. It dwarfs the terse 313 words of the Ten Commandments.
There is no previous judgement in Pakistan’s 70-year judicial history that had been pumped up into such a dirigible balloon of expectations. Three political parties led by the indefatigable Imran Khan believed that, based on the voluminous evidence they had presented to the five member bench of the Supreme Court, all that the apex body had to do was to blow the trumpet supplied by the plaintiffs, and the walls of Nawaz Sharif’s Jericho would fall down.
Truth demands a forest pulped into reams of legal-length paper.
The hopes of an anxious public were heightened by an observation made by Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan (a member of the Panamagate bench) in another case. “Our pronouncements,” he proclaimed, will remain “for centuries”. It is now for posterity to decide which will endure — this ponderous judicial verdict, or the quicksilver memory of the public.
Much has been made of its opening paragraph. It quotes not pertinent judicial precedents but a book about an Italian Mafia family — the Corleones — from Sicily. An equally pertinent obiter dicta might have come in as handy — the observation by another Mediterranean islander, the Corsican Napoleon Bonaparte. “Glory,” he said, “is fleeting, but obscurity is forever”.
Our political practices owe as much to the Italian Mafia as our judicial system does to the ancient Romans. Their concepts of jurisprudence permeate our legal traditions. Take the maxim articulated by the third-century jurist Julius Prudentissimus, the accepted author of the concept of the presumption of innocence: Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat — Proof lies on him who asserts, not on him who denies. It means that the onus lies on the accuser to prove an allegation, not on the defendant to justify his innocence.
There are still Pakistanis alive who can recall the nationalisation of Ittefaq Foundries by Mr Z.A. Bhutto in January 1972, the paucity of its book assets, the discovery of the Sharifs’ family jewellery in the company safe, and the selective denationalisation by Gen Ziaul Haq to the godfather Sharif. Since then, many millions of Pakistanis have watched with incredulity the wealth of the Sharif dynasty procreate and multiply until it makes Fort Knox look like petty cash.
Is crime (as the Supreme Court bench hinted) the magic crucible from which flows all inordinate wealth? That will be for the joint investigation team (including nominees of the ISI and MI) to unearth and for a new bench to decide.
Meanwhile, Nawaz Sharif has involved himself in (yet another) needless confrontation with the army’s leadership. The prime minister may handpick his COAS, as Nawaz Sharif did Gen Qamar Bajwa six months ago, but he cannot prevent a uniformed Thomas Becket expanding into an archbishop of Canterbury, choosing God over Caesar.
The first retort in the proxy war between them has been heard. Tweets have been hurled like North Korean misguided missiles by Maj-Gen Asif Ghafoor of the ISPR and Maryam Nawaz, the prime minister’s daughter over the ‘Dawn leak’ report. Consider. An elected prime minister is told by tweet that a notification issued under his authority has been ‘rejected’ by the Pakistan Army. His as yet unelected daughter responds in kind, tweetly.
Nawaz Sharif might regard this challenge as institutional insolence, at worst an act of constitutional insubordination. For him, it must seem a disheartening reprise of October 1999 when he ordered the removal of the then COAS Gen Musharraf, and then discovered his own name on the marching orders. History does not repeat itself; it is politicians who repeat their own mistakes.
Rational Pakistanis are gradually slipping into a coma watching the sleep-inducing shenanigans in Islamabad. They tremble at the prospect of the next gene ral election that will elect members to an assembly that cannot assemble enough numbers to form a quorum, has no time for the country’s business and no inclination to be held accountable.
The Pakistani public mourns the loss of authority that radiates from their ballot papers. It expects clarity and integrity in leadership. It had hoped for a judicial haiku.