'Videogate' judge Arshad Malik has been dismissed from his position. Photo: Agencies

It is exactly a year this week since Maryam Nawaz released video of a judge confessing that he had been put under pressure to convict her father Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s thrice-elected prime minister.

Judge Arshad Malik has finally been sacked by Lahore High Court but questions remain: When will those who coerced the judge be brought to account, and when will there be justice for Sharif?

Maryam perhaps fought the toughest fight of her life to free her father who was jailed, despite his poor health, to settle political scores.

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government was at the time using institutions such as the National Accountability Bureau to imprison vocal Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz PML-N members in circumstances where the controlled section of the press was hostile to their party.

The confessional video of Arshad Malik should have been enough to quash the sentence and clear Sharif in a corruption case involving the Al Azizia Steel Mills. Sharif was cleared at his trial in a separate case involving Flagship Investments but stepped down as prime minister in 2017 after the Supreme Court disqualified him from office through a controversial judicial decision in the Panama papers case.

The Videogate scandal raises the question of why Sharif’s name has not been cleared in a fresh Supreme Court hearing. It is, after all, a matter of disgracing an elected prime minister and sending him packing though dubious judicial proceedings.

Not only has Sharif suffered but, as a result, the country has been thrown into some of the worst economic turmoil in its history. The political chaos after Sharif’s disqualification is increasing even now.

There are honest and fearless judges such as Justice Qazi Faez Isa in the Supreme Court and they can be asked to take up the case of Sharif’s disqualification again so the judiciary can correct its course of history.

The Panama Papers case had no grounds and had the establishment not manipulated the judicial proceedings Sharif could have steered clear of trouble.

Senior politician Javed Hashmi, who joined PTI ranks in 2013, held a press conference in 2014 and exposed the conspiracy against the elected PML-N government by saying a judicial coup was planned against Sharif.

There was never a doubt from the start that judicial proceedings were manipulated against Sharif and that the establishment, through judges like Arshad Malik and Saqib Nisar, made sure that justice should not prevail. Sharif, who was the most popular political leader at that time, was made an example for other political leaders.

The message was clear for those in politics not to cross the line, and to continue to take orders.

Now, gradually, the saner voices in the judiciary and in the establishment have started raising concerns about the problems the country is facing. Judges like Isa are taking a stand without any fear.

This is the time the Sharif case should be reopened. Sharif has won his case on the political front. Sympathy for him in Punjab province is increasing as every conspiracy is exposed.

If free and fair elections are held, even at short notice of three or six months, PML-N will easily sweep the province of Punjab and win a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly.

Despite the hue and cry of Prime Minister Imran Khan and his cabinet and around-the-clock propaganda by the majority of the press controlled by the invisible forces, Sharif has almost turned the tables.

In a country where from the press to the judiciary every institution is manipulated, it cannot be a coincidence that the PML-N leadership is out of prison now while slowly but gradually things have started working in favor of the party and Sharif.

There is growing dissent in the establishment about the way the hybrid PTI regime has been imposed on the country.

The failed experiment of bringing Khan to power and a miserable attempt to make him a political brand has cost the military establishment the game on the power chessboard.

Of course, with ample resources and power, the establishment will not leave the ground open for Sharif but there are signs of a gradual retreat as the deteriorating economy and the credibility of the establishment are at stake.

The main factors are the misrule by Khan and the new post-Covid world order. Growing dissent within the establishment over bringing in an inept leader like Khan is also one of the main reasons pushing the establishment to the verge of retreat.

However, Maryam’s role can never be forgotten as she stood for her father and her party when no one else was ready to lead the charge.

For Sharif, it is time to make decisions in the interest of future generations. With his experience and temperament, he can strike an agreement with the establishment that every institution will work according to the constitution and nothing but the constitution.

The establishment also needs to think about what it has achieved by imposing direct and indirect martial law time and again. Every time it brought in puppets like Khan it failed miserably and faced criticism.

If the establishment keeps manipulating the political discourse there is no chance that Pakistan will return to the path of economic certainty and progress. Without a genuine political leadership it is impossible for any direct or indirect military ruler to steer the country out of the crisis.

Justice Isa remains an example for the judiciary. He did not surrender to pressure and today his reputation and credibility are unquestionable. He also prevailed against the invisible forces.

Recently the chairwoman of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), Nausheen Amjad, was replaced by the government because, according to insiders, she was not ready to draft a biased report against Isa.

Nausheen has set an example that if someone like Isa can take a stand against those not abiding by the constitution there are many people in the government machinery who can rise to the occasion and refuse to malign people like Isa at the behest of the invisible forces.

If judges can stick to protecting the constitution, journalists can stick to their professional oaths instead of becoming touts, and politicians can bring democracy to their own parties, the country can progress and become democratic. Perhaps more than Sharif, the initiative is with the establishment and the judiciary.

The establishment can make a respectable retreat, and admitting mistakes is a sign of bravery, not cowardice.

The judiciary’s test has started now. It has to be seen whether it will provide a fair and free opportunity to Sharif to plead his cases again and whether the judiciary can decide his cases on merit and according to law rather than on the wishes of few bigwigs of the establishment.

After all, without justice and upholding the constitution, no country can even think of surviving in the modern arena.

After Videogate and the Arshad Malik firing it is time to decide if Pakistan will be run by invisible forces or according to the constitution and democratic norms.

We have seen the consequences of not abiding by the constitution. Perhaps it is time to uphold the constitution and democratic institutions to get different and positive results.

Imad Zafar is a journalist and columnist/commentator for newspapers. He is associated with TV channels, radio, newspapers, news agencies, and political, policy and media related think-tanks.

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