New Delhi: Effective today, Nawaz Sharief’s political life is over. The Pakistan Supreme Court has removed the ambiguity in its order of July last year barring Nawaz Sharief from office. Its five judges unanimously ruled that he is barred for life. Benazir Bhutto was killed. Nawaz Sharief has been judicially extinguished. In a world that is increasingly populated by autocrats, it does appear that Pakistan’s excuse to remain a democracy has run thin. But the situation specific to Pakistan has sovereign complexities that do not present all the answers.

The Pakistan army traditionally has usurped the powers of elected governments and ruled the country directly or indirectly for most of the decades since independence. It has brought to heel every Pakistan head of government of note and eminence from Z. A. Bhutto to Benazir and Nawaz Sharief himself. Nawaz Sharief started his political career as an army stooge and that role has now passed to Imran Khan. But the army is a bit player in the latest drama although it cannot be displeased with the outcome. It is the role of the judiciary in lowering the boom on Nawaz that merits deeper scrutiny; but the answers, alas, are not always to be found.

When the Pakistan army first mounted the throne under General Ayub Khan, it needed the support of the bureaucracy and the feudal class and both were put at its disposal for a price. The army took the lead in ruling the country while the bureaucracy assisted with ways and means. Once the army was educated, the bureaucracy was shown its place. Feudal interests continued to be protected since they preserved a precarious national stability and remained useful to dominate party politics. Even the judiciary played to the army piper legalizing its unconstitutional usurpations of power from time to time. It stands to reason that Pakistan couldn’t have suffered a substantial erosion of democracy unless the judiciary was complicit in the crime.

And yet there is no obvious suggestion that the judiciary gained either individually by way of profiting of its judges or institutionally by supporting the army. This was true of the bureaucracy and even more so with the feudal and new industrial classes. Men can be moved by other considerations than money: for example, an instinct of self-preservation, a genuine belief in the virtues of army rule, a hatred of the political class for its venality, nationalism, and so forth. These considerations could have moved the judges.

But a change seems to have come in the judiciary when the Pakistan army itself failed as a governing institution. The judiciary and the erstwhile military dictator, Parvez Musharraf, clashed when the sheen had worn off Musharraf as the special forces general with the magic touch. He was a hero of Kargil despite having lost the war. His undoing was when he ran Pakistan to the ground. The army has not been able to recover from his failure. It holds the veto over national security and geopolitics but it is terrified to administrate Pakistan. It is here that the judiciary has stepped in. The favourite punching bag is still the political class, but it has started encroaching on the powers of the army. The judiciary is trying to force a division of power between the army and itself in the overall command and control of Pakistan. This, according to this writer, is the real meaning of the blanket disqualification of Nawaz Sharief.

If you examine the case against Nawaz Sharief, it has zero substance. He received no rewards from a contract in which he allegedly profited. The court documents attest this. No charges of corruption can be brought against him at least in the case in which he was barred from office. So why did the Pakistan Supreme Court railroad him? That’s a million dollar question. The Pakistan army is under enormous international pressure to mend its ways, and it cannot afford the misadventure of a coup. By the yardstick of previous army chiefs, General Qamar Javed Bajwa is a sober man. The judiciary probably sees vacant territory to grab. Since this has been happening from the time of Musharraf, it is safe to conclude that it is an ongoing process probably guided by an “invisible hand”. But it is no better than army rule and perhaps worse in some ways. The army has retired hurt before. This could metastasize like cancer.

When you conduct a kangaroo trial by manipulating the law and infusing the process with faith and fanaticism, you end up with a very dangerous situation. You could see this happening in totalitarian systems guided by god and godlessness. Stalin’s show trials were no worse than what the ayatollahs put together in Iran and which applies in full fury to Chinese political dissidents and separatists. To the extent that individual Pakistani judges were animated with noble purpose to bar Nawaz Sharief for life, it is worthwhile to remember that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Didn’t the Grand Inquisitor tell Christ in his cell in The Brothers Karamazov that the Church no longer needs him?

Editor’s Note 1. No words can describe the horror and infamy of the Kathua rape incident. It dishonours the nation. Narendra Modi’s silence is shameful. Since Jammu’s lawyer community sought to obstruct justice for the little girl who was gang-raped and murdered, it is best to try the case in a neutral megalopolis like Delhi with powerful law enforcement mechanisms. After proper verification, those who brought ignominy to the practise of law in Jammu must be disbarred. There is nothing above the Constitution and the rule of law.

2. “Private lender” is a strange term when applied to private banks such as ICICI. ICICI may be in private hands but it lends public money that you and I keep in its savings accounts, fixed deposits, etc. In essence, ICICI Bank bases its operations predominantly on public funds. An NBFC is a true private lender because it cannot accept public deposits like banks do.

So Chanda Kochhar is not merely responsible for banking integrity to ICICI Bank’s private owners and shareholders; she is equally and more responsible for her professional rectitude to each and every public depositor big or small. By that virtue, the state and the Reserve Bank are obliged to demand and obtain accountability from Chanda Kochhar in the Videocon loan scam involving her husband. As a first step, her services must be terminated. She must then be asked to join the investigations and advised not to leave the country: Enough of handling of dodgy banking big shots with kid gloves.