It’s a weak judgment based on a bad law. But it is a judgment by the court of law, and it is a law passed by a legally elected parliament. And so it holds. For now. Till it is suspended by a higher court. If it is suspended by a higher court.
But till that happens, if it happens, Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz and Capt (retd) Safdar are guilty of corruption and their status is legally changed from being suspects to becoming convicts.
It is a seminal moment, no doubt about it. But seminal not just in the way that Imran Khan thinks; seminal not just in the way that Nawaz Sharif thinks and seminal not just in the way that the Establishment thinks — in fact it is seminal for all the wrong reasons.
Wrong reasons? What could possibly be wrong with a former prime minister being held to account for his proven corruption? What could possibly be wrong with law being applied ruthlessly and indiscriminately against men and women of power? In fact what could possibly be wrong with the system cracking down on white-collar crime and actually proving it in a court of law?
Nothing really wrong with all of this, you say. In fact it’s a moment to celebrate the coming of age of a nation that has always seen some people, some classes, and some institutions hover above the law. On Friday July 6th all this changed and a new dawn seems to have dawned upon us all.
But wait. Hang on a minute. What’s that contradiction peeping through the key hole of the door that is supposed to lead to our collective salvation? Why is it not clapping and cheering and dancing with joy? Why does it want to be heard above the raucous din of electioneering?
There is a reason, a fairly legitimate reason, for the contradiction to assert its presence, and it goes something like this: Nawaz Sharif’s conviction is a victory for justice but if the justice is selective, then the victory belongs not to justice but to those who select the selective application of justice. This is as subtle as a sledgehammer smashing your little finger.
There’s more. This seminal moment in our judicial history — reflected in Friday’s judgment — should inspire a new heightened level of confidence in our judiciary and raise the bar for all future judicial pronouncements. And yet…
Yet why does a certain feeling of discomfort hang in the air like noxious odour — a feeling grounded in not being taken by surprise at the judgment, a feeling of a passive acceptance of the way things have always been managed in this land, how the canvas is painted not with a brush dipped in paint but in intent, and how the same sword gets a steady supply of heads to decapitate.
If the law wields its own sword, who wields the law?
The sweet fragrance of rot is wafting along mightily well. If you think it’s coming from him, you’re right. If he thinks it’s coming from you, he’s right too. We are all wallowing in it together, ladies and gentlemen, and imagining the gutter to be the Promised Land. For where else would the courts proclaim legal discrimination against minorities while politicians stoke the embers of religiosity, where else would right-wing fringe group be dusted off shelves and flung like grenades into the electoral arena while allowing them to weaponise their rhetoric with hate, bigotry and intolerance and where else would filth mongers be allowed to pollute the airwaves with their poisonous verbiage while mouthing off praises for freedom of expression.
Alice just stumbled into blunderland.
She’s in for a shock because she’s the only one not in the game of ‘pretend’. For everyone else, existence is an unending series of winks and nods to one another, to the system and to the world at large. It’s a wink and nod of acknowledgement that the system is skewed but it is mighty fine for us to play along with the notion that it is not. Just like it is mighty fine for us to pretend that yesterday’s dirty, rotten scoundrels are today’s winning candidates because they were baptised by the shimmering light of change.
Change can be value-neutral. Something changed this Friday but we’re not sure what?
Yet another politician convicted of corruption could hide his crime under the cloak of political victimisation. That’s not change. Yet another verdict could be politicised because of inherent flaws contained within. That’s not change. Yet another leader is ready for power oblivious of how his path is haunted by the ghosts of blunders past. That’s not change.
The change — if one may dare call it such — is the emergence of a new hybrid of governance that promises us a better life. This change has a logo: mailed fist in a velvety democratic glove.
We’ve experienced so many types. Why not give this one a try too? After all, we don’t have much to lose.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 8th, 2018.