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Imran Khan Is Suffering From Cognitive Dissonance After Allowing Nawaz Sharif To Travel Abroad

Those feeling wronged by the LHC decision are also conveniently forgetting what happened before the case reached the court. After months of taking an avowed position of “not giving an NRO” and “no relief without a plea bargain to recover looted money, the PM and his cabinet decided to take the compassion route after reports of the former premier’s serious illness surfaced, writes Awais Saleem.

The unthinkable has happened. Nawaz Sharif has safely landed in London, leaving behind a fuming prime minister and his fanbase. PMLN is understandably jubilant and PTI is feeling severely hard done by the court’s verdict. The condition of seven billion rupees surety bond has become the real bone of contention.   

All kinds of speculation about possible reasons for this relief are doing the rounds. Some insist that there is some sort of understanding in the backdrop of relief provided to Mian Nawaz Sharif while others maintain that the proverbial deal has evaporated in thin air. Nobody really knows what is happening. Those who know don’t speak. Those who do speak don’t speak the whole truth.

To negate the impressions of a deal, the government functionaries and their sympathizers are pointing fingers at the court for letting Nawaz Sharif off the hook without depositing the surety bond. They insist that this was justified since such a sum was part of his conviction. PMLN approached the court to challenge the surety bond and it was set aside. The critics believe that the court verdict is another indication of how laws are applied separately to the elites and the commoners in the land of the pure.

Prime Minister Imran Khan minced no words when he appealed to the Chief Justice of Pakistan in a recent speech to dispel the impression of this dichotomy in the disbursement of justice. The CJP didn’t take it lightly. In a carefully worded retort, he advised the prime minister to remain “careful” when it comes to insinuating about the conduct of apex courts. He also took the opportunity to remind the PM that it was his government that had allowed Mian Nawaz Sharif to proceed abroad in the first place.

The PM has reportedly asked his cabinet to avoid responding to the CJP’s remarks. Wise, it must be said. But social media is another kind of beast and the cult followers don’t like to follow an order that doesn’t subscribe to their worldview. They are up in arms as to how come the court decided to submission of waive surety bond?  The question of legality as per relevant laws and no precedent in previous such cases in consideration before the court doesn’t fit in with this worldview.

Even when the case was being argued in the court, the government’s legal team didn’t challenge or provide any counterarguments when the court hinted at renouncing the surety bond. The attorney general, in fact, went to great lengths in a subsequent press conference to give a positive spin to the LHC verdict. He termed it “close to 80 percent” of what PTI wanted. The government also decided against challenging the decision in the Supreme Court that had convicted Mian Nawaz Sharif in the first place.

Those feeling wronged by the LHC decision are also conveniently forgetting what happened before the case reached the court. After months of taking an avowed position of “not giving an NRO” and “no relief without a plea bargain to recover looted money, the PM and his cabinet decided to take the compassion route after reports of the former premier’s serious illness surfaced. They didn’t take it on face value. The government constituted multiple medical board that confirmed the gravity of the situation. PM Khan went as far as sending his personal friend and chief executive of Shaukat Khanum Hospital, Dr. Faisal Sultan, to check on-ground situation and his conclusions were no different either. The spokesperson of the federal and Punjab government assured that they were ready to shift Nawaz Sharif aboard if need be. They were even ready to provide the air ambulance to the patient. There was no mention of any precondition at that stage.

That is when PMLN smelled victory and got a little carried away. Khawaja Asif’s speech in the parliament and Salman Shahbaz’s “game changer” tweet were not only premature but also akin to shooting themselves in the foot. That’s when the government started suffering from cognitive dissonance and was forced to reassess the situation. They wanted to get rid of MNS but they didn’t want it to look like a political surrender. They also needed a justification for their supporters who had been baying for former PM’s blood and ruthless accountability.

That is when the legal wizards in the cabinet suggested imposing a surety bond. It is pertinent to mention here that the attorney general wasn’t consulted in the matter, who might have had a different take on this matter. Several independent lawyers at the time pointed out that this precondition was on weak legal grounds and wouldn’t survive in a courtroom. PTI still went ahead with it. If the courts keep the surety bond, PTI is vindicated. It the courts waive it off, they are to be blamed and not the government. A master stroke on the face of it.

It turned out to the latter case. Was it a selective application of justice given the speedy trial? Perhaps it was. But it has always been the case and the courts have been quite bipartisan in this practice. Had it not been the case, NAB probes against the likes of Pervez Khattak, Khusro Bakhtiar, and PM Khan himself would have been expedited the same way as they are against those in the opposition.

The images that emerged in the media when Mian Nawaz Sharif traveled to the United Kingdom wearing a nice suit and a swanky charted place gifted by the rulers of Qatar infuriated the critics even further. Now they are convinced that Nawaz Sharif wasn’t sick at all and it was all part of a background deal. If that argument is to be accepted, then they must acknowledge that their favorite government is also hand in glove with this conspiracy. After all, it was them who confirmed and apprised the public of the former prime minister’s illness following a very stringent verification process supervised by the state apparatus.

If it was some other powerful group that vetoed the government’s reluctance to let Nawaz Sharif go, the government’s predicament gets even worse. They can’t name the real perpetrators, they can’t satisfy their followers, and they can’t justify it for themselves either after several months of taking a contrary stated position. Well, for every “I will not give NRO” slogan by PM Khan, PMLN had a “you are not the one who will decide it” response. In the end, it seems both were proved right.   

The easier option is to keep passing the buck to the courts. Even that is sticky ground given how CJP has reacted. Why could the government not stick to “no NRO” position instead of taking the humanitarian route? Obviously, the primary reasons were to avoid a political backlash given what happened in the case of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in Pakistan’s chequered history, and Begum Kalsoom Nawaz as recently as last year. Her fatal illness was ridiculed the same way even when she was on the deathbed.

PTI has strange paradoxes. It suffers from indecision and lack of clarity on important matters and wants to come clean before the public despite constant compromise and u-turns. If anything goes wrong, it is always rushing to find a scapegoat, be it political opponents, or rotten eggs within the party ranks, or the lifafa-friendly media, or the khooni liberals, or a foreign hand – rather than doing some honest soul searching. Such tendencies have hurt this government more than anything during the tenure in office so far.

Is the current wave of outrage justified then? When your political considerations take precedence over affirmed stances and principles, it has serious consequences. Both parties used this development to gain political mileage. Who wins the long haul remains to be seen. At the moment, all eyes are diverted to the immediate future of Maryam Nawaz and Asif Ali Zardari. If their cases take the same trajectory as Nawaz Sharif, it will be clear that certain decisions are being taken somewhere else, notwithstanding the current regime’s chagrin. The only option PTI will be left with is to continue outpouring on social media, however selective it might be, to soothe the misplaced outrage.

But that’s how a cult behaves everywhere. Why should anyone be surprised?

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