The countdown begins

By Ayaz Amir

July 10 is upon us. Who would have thought that the JIT would go about its work the way it has and who would have thought that the ruling party, or rather the ruling family, would be reduced thus to the last stages of desperation?

The nervousness and agitation of the N League, the fear of what is to come, is now visible. You can see it and feel it. The Sharifovs have blustered and postured and gone red in the face. But pertaining to the charges raised by the Panamagate scandal they have been able to provide no defence, not the slightest, beyond the tales spun before the Supreme Court.

Even the Qatari royal who sprang to the Sharifs’ defence with his two tributes to imaginative literature has wisely opted for discretion over valour. The Sharifs thus are left to their own devices and these are proving of not much help.

The writing is on the wall and the Noonies have read it. They just don’t know what to do because what they are experiencing is novel for them. They were always able to influence courts and rely on friendly judges. But it’s a measure of how their power and reach stand curtailed that they were neither able to influence the Supreme Court nor exercise any baleful influence over the JIT. They are left with the issuing of empty threats which no one is taking seriously.

We have just to look at what is happening in the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan to realize how nothing is going right for the Sharifs. Mr Hijazi, the chairman, is saying one thing and his subordinates are reportedly affirming before the FIA that he forced them to tamper with the record regarding the Sharifs which was to be presented to the JIT.

The sons for a final hearing are again being called before the JIT. The daughter, the Princess Royal, who was being groomed, would you believe it, as successor to the prime minister, is also to appear before the same team. Ishaq Dar, the Sharifs’ former financial accountant turned country prime minister, has been called in for questioning too, and not without reason because no Panamagate inquiry can be complete without his testimony.

He was the central character in the money-laundering venture surrounding the Sharifs’ Hudaibiya Paper Mills. He submitted a handwritten confession, reportedly 45 pages long, when he was in NAB custody during the Musharraf era. All the startling details in this colourful episode he willingly provided. This was given under duress, he now claims but interestingly enough he has never denied the substance of his confession—all the details of fake accounts opened in the name of the Qazi family through which huge sums of money were dry-cleaned and used as collateral for loans by the Sharifs.

We’ve heard of fathers protecting their offspring. This must be one of those rare occasions when a father is protesting his own innocence and putting everything on the shoulders of his sons and his late father. If the sons are being interrogated and the daughter is also being called in for questioning it is only because of the peculiar defence mounted by the head of the family, Mian Nawaz Sharif.

Anyway, these are now side issues. The main thing is that Nawaz Sharif is in trouble and this realization is finally sinking into the minds of a family hitherto untouchable and unassailable. Their past is now catching up with them and in a manner they could not have visualized in their wildest dreams.

What happens next? I had a brief word with an N-Leaguer the other evening, someone who can claim to know the thinking of the leadership, or at least its psychology. I asked him if they realized that everything was about to be over and he said, yes, the realization had now dawned. I asked him the same question, what next? And he said once the axe falls on the top, as it is likely too, everything will be over. Wasn’t the party thinking of alternatives, I asked? He gave a revealing answer: in Nawaz Sharif’s dictionary this word did not exist. It was either him or nothing. If he had to go the temple could come crashing down on everyone’s head. This would be the alternative nearest to his heart.

So the threat to democracy, if there is one, is not from without, it is from within…from Nawaz Sharif himself and no external quarter.

It is up to the N League to avert such an outcome. But the N League parliamentary party is a collection of spineless individuals capable of no independent thought and no capacity for independent action. From such an assemblage what is to be expected?

The one symbol of the present order that will remain—and this is my hunch—is President Mamnoon Hussain. Empty vessels have their uses. Gen Zia made use of President Fazal Ellahi Chaudry for some time, as Gen Musharraf did of that other monument to emptiness, President Rafiq Tarar. Mamnoon Hussain outlasting his creators…wouldn’t this be funny? Mamnoon Hussain of all people having the last laugh. The Sharifs wouldn’t be able to stand it but that would be part of the joke.

What we are witnessing is a velvet coup…smooth as velvet, without sound or fanfare, without angry tweets from ISPR—note how ISPR has gone virtually silent—and no overt movement on the military front. All that is happening is according to the law and as per the decisions of the Supreme Court…the triumph, seemingly, not of arms but the rule of law. Appearances count and this is the outward appearance of things.

Even as we await the end of this riveting saga, some things are already apparent. This is now a stricken, crippled government, no longer capable of governing or exercising proper authority. The waters are gradually rising and there is nothing the Sharifs can do about it. We have seen the death or the virtual death of the PPP. We are now witnessing the last agonies of the N League. It won’t disappear completely just as the PPP hasn’t disappeared completely but its power has seeped away and a chapter in our history is coming to a close.

The blind pursuit of wealth, with the help of political power, the Sharifs raised it to an art form. Money was always influential in our politics but the Sharifs with their acquisition of vast wealth gave it an altogether different dimension. As Hasan Nisar said in one of his recent columns, they managed to corrupt the body-politic. And it seemed as if their power was endless, an entire army of pundits devoted to the task of confidently predicting that Nawaz Sharif had the next elections in his pocket.

Just when the N League was sure it had the future all sewn up, there struck this thunderbolt from the skies known as the Panama leaks…and the Sharifian future lay undone. The wages of hubris…no better title fits this drama.