When gloves are off, what next?

Nawaz has alienated all political supporters who could have given him a supporting hand because he is fighting a battle for his personal survival and not one for democracy and rule of law

It should not have been so but the situation is turning out to be a battle of words and nerves between former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Saqib Nisar.

Other players are watching from the sidelines, but they cannot stay neutral if the contest gets out of control.

In a recent public speech, Nawaz said he had burnt his boats and there was no looking back. “We have to counter the Supreme Court through the people’s court,” he declared. Whatever that means for the country and the constitution is yet to be defined, in courtrooms or streets.

In what seemed to be a public rejoinder, the Chief Justice said that the time when judges spoke through their written words was gone and now they could also speak out in public. And he did, rejecting all the accusations against the judiciary.

CJ Mian Saqib Nisar strongly rejected Nawaz Sharif’s claims, saying: “Forget that any conspiracy is taking place against democracy; that the judiciary is a partner in crime. This judiciary is independent and no one can dare influence it.”

He offered to quit if democracy was derailed and defended the practice of suo moto notices, saying the same aimed at protecting the basic rights of the citizens and to make sure that no one faced injustice. He remarked during recent hearings that if the courts are wrapped up in the country, the law of jungle will prevail.

In the past when Nawaz or Benazir or Junejo were ousted, they were thrown out of office and out of power. This time Nawaz got lucky for reasons yet to be deciphered by historians or analysts

Nawaz, on the other hand, has openly attacked judges and his men have repeatedly said outrageous things, which forced the SC to call three of them on contempt charges. One was jailed and disqualified, to send a clear message and two will face the music in the coming days and weeks.

But on ground, the dynamics for the people seem to be changing. The SC has gone into the fast forward mode on issues of public interest. People love it.

Other than the high profile political blockbusters, the SC has also taken notice of fake degrees, human trafficking, impure water and milk, child rape, government ads given to the media and salaries of media workers, illegal housing schemes, Islamabad football ground, and so on and so forth.

Among the top political cases are the one about the Election Commission issues, Nawaz as party chief, the Swiss accounts case, foreign assets case, contempt cases, appeals in Hudaibiya case, and Multan Metro.

Senior writer in this newspaper M. Ziauddin wrote yesterday: “Considering the way Nawaz Sharif is fighting his case in what he calls the people’s court, it is becoming increasingly difficult to write him off from the country’s political arena for good.

“On the other hand, it is becoming equally difficult not to minus him from all future political reckonings in the country considering the way the Supreme Court, especially CJ Saqib Nisar is conducting the contest in his Court with his ‘suo motu’ powers, a deadly public interest judicial weapon to be used advisedly only sparingly, if at all.

“The fact that Nawaz has kept himself relevant and that too almost at the centre of country’s politics since July 28, 2017, seems like a miracle.” But, he wrote: “All this would have come to nothing had Nawaz lost the government as well, along with his office and the NA seat. In fact no amount of political mobilisation by Nawaz would have kept the PML-N intact if the party’s government too had been ousted along with its PM.”

That is where the crux of this confusion lies. In the past when Nawaz or Benazir or Junejo were ousted, they were thrown out of office and out of power. This time Nawaz got lucky for reasons yet to be deciphered by historians or analysts. He enjoys the same protocols, same loyalty of supporters and powers.

Nawaz’s party was allowed to continue in power and so it remained intact, mainly because of the huge funds the MPs were likely to get in the name of development. Then Nawaz became a rebel and forgetting his dubious past, led by his ambitious daughter, tried to become a Che Guevara, fighting with government money against his own government’s institutions.

Now the game plan, as reported by many, is that Nawaz will try to get his majority in the Senate and as soon as he gets it, he has declared to change laws, and probably the Constitution, to cut the powers of the Supreme Court and the Army, taking over the authority to name judges and even generals. That, he says, will be the people’s power.

If he tries that, an October 1999 type situation will quickly develop, putting Rawalpindi in a spin to make the final decision.

The difference today will be that only Nawaz will be facing the music but his party will have to decide where it stands. It would be a crucial decision as this time Nawaz is not fighting for democracy or against any dictator. He is fighting his demons, his conviction on corruption and for undiluted power over every other institution that matters. He will be emulating the Erdogan Model, in short.

The ground reality is that Pakistan is not Turkey and Nawaz is no Erdogan. The judiciary will stop him in every possible way to bulldoze established democratic and civil society rules and traditions, supported by the people and the Pindi boys.

The key role would be of the army but so far the boys have stood aside, watching the game, saying they are with the constitution and the law.

So who decides what is the law? Nawaz says it is the Parliament and the SC says it is the Constitution. The SC interprets it for all other institutions.

Unfortunately, Nawaz has alienated all political supporters who could have given him a supporting hand because he is fighting a battle for his personal survival and not one for democracy and rule of law.

The writer is a senior journalist

Published in Daily Times, February 9th 2018.