An opportunity being squandered!

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Zaheer Bhatti

THE Panama leaks case touted as the most important in Pakistan’s checkered history, has lingered on now for almost a year and its final outcome is still distant and blurred. It is only in Pakistan that cases which are sub-judice are so openly and flagrantly opined over the media and the Courts rather than sternly outlawing such pre-emption, provide further food through their remarks during proceedings to fill the media appetite. Had the judgment been forthright, navigated expeditiously, arrived at, announced and implemented, saving the Nation precious institutional time in order to attend to more crucial and pressing issues the Country is faced with, it would have made eminent sense.
But even if in addressing the elite club, admitting the Panama Leaks petition and just delivering a supposed road-map, the Supreme Court should not have taken several months and held the entire nation hostage to what has turned out to be a voluminous account with philosophical dressing, which even an ardent reader may not have the patience or interest to go through leave alone the common man whose priorities in life in any case are two square meals besides security and protection which are becoming increasingly distant for him. This certainly is not the verdict the nation eagerly awaited as it neither penalizes nor exonerates the principal accused, and to that extent one finds no impropriety in PML-N’s expectation of the judgment which ought to have been in black and white rather than leaving it muddied in grey.
Granted that the Supreme Court not being a Trial Court could not have acted as prosecution, but if that was to be the obvious stance why was the petition or petitions not promptly returned referring the petitioners to Trial Courts rather than hold endless hearings without a tangible result? Inconclusive judgment of the 5-member Bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan over a Constitutional Petition under the prevalent Judicial System took several months of hearings and deliberations, many lawyers changing hands on behalf of the Parties and the Superior Court touting the judgment to be long remembered as a landmark one, reserved it for 59 days before announcing the 546-page split verdict in the afternoon of 20 April 2017 ordering the constitution of a Joint Investigation Team to further probe the accusations. What one will perhaps remember of this judgment is that it has decided nothing except ordering formation of a JIT with a timeframe, which like the past Judicial Commissions promises little.
But such are the vagaries of the British Colonial Judicial System which Pakistan has inherited, that administration of justice delivered in several tiers not only makes it invariably inconclusive but extremely cumbersome rendering it inordinately delayed, which defeats the very purpose of justice and in its own jargon if delayed, stands virtually denied. It leaves the common man totally stranded and a begging who in any case cannot afford this expensive and unsure route to justice. There were times when 14 years of imprisonment amounted to a life-sentence, but today there are cases where either the accused while still under Trial has been held and jailed for almost 18-20 years and ultimately acquitted, died in custody or favoured with a clean chit when they have already expired. There cannot be a more pathetic commentary over the Pakistani Judicial System which has failed to evolve with a view to expeditiously addressing the suffering of the almost 80% less privileged in Pakistan.
Relying on the Short Order alone one can safely assume that it was a unique judgment only in that: 1) Based on a 3-2 split decision, it declares no winners or losers for the time being. 2) It provides further room to all concerned parties to continue harping on their respective tunes for at least another two months 3) It Orders setting up of a highly questionable JIT to be headed by a Grade-20 officer providing it with a 13-point TOR to further probe the accusations, with more than half its members coming from the same NAB, FIA and the FBR which the Bench itself has censured and condemned.
The only part of the judgment which makes sense to the ordinary citizen is the one pertaining to the two dissenting honourable judges on the Bench who have held the accused guilty, while the other three while implicitly not exonerating the accused have required further investigations into the allegations in order to meet the ends of justice, and by consensus ordered formation of a Joint Investigation Team which again amounts to passing the buck to a conglomerate whose very composition barring nominees from the ISI and MI, already hints at the feared manipulative possibilities for those they are serving under, with one of the member organizations nominating a panel of 3 but sending 2 of them on leave. How prudent and logical it is to ask the same non-performing and eclipsed entities to deliver in this case is a big question mark, and therefore a non-starter.
With no one prepared to identify and bell the cat and the Apex Court unwilling to take suo motu notice, Panama Leaks in revealing hundreds of Pakistani names stashing tons of money off-shore, had provided a lead to ill-gotten wealth and given Pakistan a God-sent opportunity to decisively nail the menace of corruption which is eating into the entire fabric of the nation, but sadly the landmark judgment has fought shy and appears to be squandering the God-sent opportunity to reform the society. Not only should the sitting Prime Minister and the owners of Surrey riches be made to answer, but also surgical operation is required across the entire spectrum of the stinking society including hundreds of other revealed names through the Panama Leaks.
Unless every individual and Institution is held accountable in any civilized society it will become dysfunctional, which appears to be the case with Pakistan where without a clearly defined and followed system of accountability and an indiscriminate system of justice, the sacred cows which once upon a time were restricted to the State, its Religion and the Armed Forces have today multiplied and continue to eat into the body-whole of the Pakistani Nation. Today it seems to be a free-for-all where you can get away with anything, be it corruption, blue murder, swindling, adulteration and double-crossing or trampling rights of others.
—The writer is a media professional, member of Pioneering team of PTV and a veteran ex Director Programmes.

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