The Joint Investigation Team report to the Supreme Court has not really proved anything except that its members had fallen back on the saying that has guided bureaucrats down the ages: “When in doubt, mumble.” There was none of the underlying straightforwardness necessary in Mark Twain’s original advice: “When in doubt, tell the truth.”

The JIT consisted of bureaucrats, including the two representatives of the intelligence agencies, MI and the ISI. Apart from these two, the other members included representatives of the SECP, NAB and the State Bank, with the head of the JIT also representing the FIA. It should be noted that MI and ISI are primarily intelligence agencies, not investigation agencies. They provide their ‘clients’ (the Army in the former’s case, all the armed forces in the latter’s) intelligence. In other words, they seek accurate information, though it may not necessarily be capable of proof in court. It should be noted that they do have considerable investigative capacity, as they also have experience providing evidence to courts-martial.

On the other hand, FIA and NAB are essentially investigating agencies. FIA is actually a police force, but it does not have any watch and ward function, instead conducting investigations into a wide variety of federal crimes. NAB conducts investigations into a wide variety of corrupt practices by officials, both elected and permanent, which go to one kind of court, the Accountability Courts. The SECP and State Bank, as regulators, also have an in-house investigative capacity, but (especially in the case of the latter) do not have this as their primary function.

Investigative capacity implies the ability to get up evidence for a prosecution. Police forces may have a watch and ward function, whereby they maintain law and order, but they are also supposed to be able to investigate a crime, fix responsibility, and then collect the necessary evidence, which they then provide to the prosecuting authority, which will then produce that evidence in court. Not only must the evidence prove that the crime has been committed by the person it is accusing, but it must also meet the requirements of the law (the Qanoon-i-Shahadat Order), as well as answer the objections of the prosecution. Thus it is possible that a person is guilty all right, but is acquitted, because the evidence produced is insufficient.

It would thus appear appropriate that the Supreme Court should appoint a team which would assist it. A court needs evidence to convict, even if it is the Supreme Court itself. Therefore, it is widely expected that the Supreme Court will accept the JIT recommendations in its next hearing. The most important of those is that a reference be filed against the Prime Minister and his three elder children for having more assets than their incomes justified. That is the reason why there have been so many calls for the PM’s resignation, and why the Pakistan Tehrik Insaf has appeared so jubilant since the report was made.

The PM’s immediate reaction is to go into appeal, because this is the first time he has been directly implicated. If the Supreme Court accepts the JIT recommendation, it will be the first time that a charge will lie against the PM, and in court, the burden of proof will lie on him to explain his income. No actual examples of corruption need be established. However, it does seem a little weird for the case to be referred back to an agency which was already represented on the JIT.

However, the real trial will be in the court of public opinion. The calls for resignation are based on the belief that the public is not really interested in judges crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s of a judgement against Mian Nawaz, so much as appearances of propriety or impropriety. That Mian Nawaz attracted accusations is enough to establish for many that he should be voted against. Such accusations reflect either guilt or insufficient dexterity. However, it is possible that voters might regard any judicial conclusions of guilt more as reflecting cleverness of the kind that is needed by a political leader.

Another factor that enters the equation is the timing of the next election. It is due in less than a year, and there is some comment that might well be the best way of putting the crisis behind. One of the factors in the JIT recommendation is that it prolongs the crisis, and pushes it into the future of court hearings. It is highly unlikely that any trial of Mian Nawaz and his children will have reached the finality of decision. It is a safe prediction that Mian Nawaz will go as far as the legal system allows, not just because he would be fighting for his political survival, but because he has done so in the past.

Thus it will be up to the voter to decide whether Mian Nawaz continues to remain acceptable as a political leader. It should also not be forgotten that Mian Nawaz may have converted the PML-N into a personal political vehicle, but it remains a viable election-fighting machine first, because it has a large number of constituency heavyweights, and because it can deliver the vote of a large number of Nawaz supporters. So long as these supporters remain loyal, charges will not matter. There is the danger to Imran that these diehard supporters might argue that the charges, if true, merely prove the cleverness of Mian Nawaz, and thus his fitness to rule. It should be noted that similar charges of corruption were made against Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and were fiercely rebutted. Indeed, his son-in-law, Asif Zardari, was labelled Mr Ten Percent as early as Bhutto’s daughter Benazir’s first tenure as PM. That did not stop him from becoming President. One argument that he constantly used in defence was that he had never been convicted of any offence. Unlike Mian Nawaz in the Panamagate case, Benazir and Zardari were accused of specific corruption in more than one case, not having acquired assets beyond their known income, but the charges did not stick. Not only did Zardari become President, but Zulfikar Ali’s grandson and Benazir’s son, Bilawal, became heir to the PPP, and thus a potential Prime Minister.

Again, this is not just because the PPP contains a lot of electables, but because it represents something which makes it the vehicle through which votes are delivered to its ticket-holders. It was that ability to ensure victory for ticket-holders that keeps the PPP relevant politically. However, apart from the personal following, there is also the ideological component. The Sharifs have not just a personal following, but also lead the anti-Bhutto camp.

However, this case might well create ripples. Not only is Mian Nawaz in danger of disqualification, but so would his potential successors, his children. Indeed, not only is the SECP Chairman to have an FIR registered against him, but the Sharif children also stand accused of submitting false information to the Supreme Court. Mian Nawaz has chosen not to resign, but after exhausting the immediate legal remedies, he may find that a dissolution might well be of greater benefit than letting the Assembly run its tenure out.

Perhaps more important than Mian Nawaz’s fate is how bureaucrats might refuse to be willing tools for fear of future exposure. That may be the most lasting consequence of the case.