Nawaz Sharif’s sudden illness and failure of Pakistan’s Criminal Justice System

By Moeed Pirzada

Nawaz Sharif’s sudden illness? Nawaz is three times ex-Prime Minister of Pakistan and definitely needs best medical care and the way he has suddenly being diagnosed apparently with “Idiopathic Thrombocytopenia Purpura” should be of concern to everyone.

However it looks as if suddenly, within 24 hours, a case is again being made by his party, media channels and prominent tv commentators that he should be sent abroad for treatment. This is strange and raises suspicions about the whole affair. Accusations by Hussain Nawaz that “my father has been poisoned” and shrill voices by key politicians blaming the government and Prime Minister for Nawaz’s health condition and the fact that it suddenly happened synced with Maulana’s “Azad March” lends credence to the suspicions that whole thing is political. There is less solid information (as to what really happened and why) and more opinions on media from all sides. Doing this politics on health is sad, it reduces the sanctity of human sickness, of hospitals and medical reports – and of medical professionals. Doctors losing their professional respect and credibility, in this process of politics, will be a huge loss to the nation.

What Nawaz needs is best possible treatment not exile abroad. And best possible doctors from top medical institutions from within the country and if needed then from abroad can be called to examine him. After all “thrombocytopenia” is not something which can only be treated in London. Two things – treatment & exile abroad – need to be examined separately. These two ie “good treatment” and “Exile in London” are not one and the same thing. But listening media debates it looks as if “treatment” and “London” are one and the same thing.

Previously a narrative was being shaped, by important personalities on tv, that Nawaz has decided to sit inside jail for long and change the government by creating pressures from inside there and he is determined to earn his place in history. It looked artificial then and now it appears that it was false and it was merely a “narrative” a kind of smoke screen for putting the government, institutions and courts under pressure.

Pakistan’s criminal justice system, so far, has not demonstrated any ability to convict powerful people. While system is exceptionally hard and merciless towards common citizens, professionals and middle classes it fails to convict (prove charges) against people with wealth and political connections. Media debates are fashioned in a way that focus on hardship, physical pain and human rights of mega powerful politicians but in reality the real problem for important politicians is not “physical discomfort” but “conviction” ie they want to avoid the final establishment of their guilt. (in these cases its corruption and abuse of public office).

Final legally established provenance of charges (conviction) can end political carriers of powerful people and can jeopardise dynasties. So their lawyers and supporters deliberately prolong the cases through ever intelligent and ingenuous ways and tricks – crying about human condition thus helps the strategy of political relief. In almost all high profile cases under trial the strategy is to prolong the cases, create side issues and then find delays to erode the “charge sheet” through indefinite delays, finding time for political bargain. Governments, investigative agencies, legal experts, doctors, media and courts all end up becoming players in this political bargain.

If history of Pakistan is any witness, then these high profile cases will also not lead to “conviction” – Exile abroad, in London, while cases remain pending and gradually end by erosion and disinterest looks like the only logical end. This may suit all sides – including Imran Khan Government.

System can at best press charges, can arrest and detain powerful people but has no capacity to “convict” them conclusively. Many top politicians were arrested and tried in the past – like Asif Ali Zardari – for good reason, but the final result has been to purify and strengthen them with the argument that “look we are tried and nothing was proved against us”.

Criminal Justice System and courts end up reducing their credibility further with each such failed attempt – because in most instances charges of corruption are literally black and white (like Surrey Palace & SGS/Cotecna cases) and every intelligent person, with common sense, can see that crimes were indeed committed. Fault line lies between “Truth” and the “Legally Certified Truth” And this is where lies the perpetual continuing instability of Pakistani political system with radical ideas, desire for agitation, street violence and civil-military divides with young naive officers thinking that they have a solution to nation’s ills. In reality, they don’t. Real failure lies in Pakistan’s Criminal Justice System – and there is no real desire in the legal community (Bar & the Bench) to reform itself.

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