As the JIT prepares to submit its final report to the honorable Supreme Court of Pakistan, on Monday, 10th July, 2017, there is no way to deny the palpable nervousness that surrounds our political establishment. And, in the same breath, there is no way to deny the tremendous promise (and possible heartbreak) that this Monday holds, for the project of political accountability in Pakistan.

Sadly, in the past, our institutional apparatus (re: NAB, FIA, SECP, etc.) and our constitutional courts have never seriously dabbled into the financial (mis)dealings of the political elite. Over the past three decades, despite all the hue and cry (by the Ehtisan Bureau, NAB, and even a suo moto Chief Justice), people like Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif continue to multiply their personal wealth, in and outside of Pakistan, without any real accountability or institutional check. The NRO judgment, for example, did not bring back the elusive sixty million dollars. The Hudabia Reference died an inglorious death.

Will this gravy train final reach its woeful destination on Monday? We will find out soon enough.

If public reactions are anything to go by, one of two things have happened in the JIT proceedings: 1) The Sharif family has finally been taken to task, in accordance with law, and confronted with questions no one had dared to ask them before; or 2) the Sharif family has played a masterful stroke, in collusion with JIT members, to play the oppressed victim card, and will come out at the other end with a judicial stamp of being ‘sadiq and ameen’.

Whichever way the gauntlet finally falls, will create history. And history, as we know, is an unforgiving mistress.

During the JIT process, all the necessary witnesses and documents have been summoned, and examined. All, except one: the Qatari prince. Some would argue, all… except the one that matters the most.

Why is the testimony of Mr. Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al-Thani, member of Qatar’s royal family, so important to the case? In order to understand this, it is pertinent to, once again, summarise the defence presented by Sharif family before the honorable Supreme Court.

As it turns out, at the start of the Panama Leaks case, neither the Petitioner, nor the honorable Supreme Court, nor any member of the public at large, had any knowledge of the existence of a business relationship between Mr. Hussain Nawaz and Mr. Al-Thani. For the purposes of clarification, over the past 30 years of electoral politics, and specifically the many months leading up to Supreme Court’s cognizance of Panama Leaks scandal, such an arrangement had never been eluded to or mentioned, at any forum, by members of the Sharif family.

Regardless, during the course of the proceedings before the apex court, the Sharif family (out of the blue) adopted the following defence: 1) that the Prime Minister is not personally mentioned in the Panama Leaks, only his children are; 2) after nationalization of their family businesses in the 1970s, Mian Muhammad Sharif (late father of the Prime Minister) set up the Gulf Steel Mill in UAE, with the help of loans procured through UAE Banks; 3) overtime the loan was paid off and Mian Muhammad Sharif cashed out his interest in the Gulf Steel Mill, investing 12 million AED into the real estate business of Al-Thani family of Qatar; 4) subsequently, during the 2000s, Mian Muhammad Sharif named Mr. Hussain Nawaz as the sole inheritor of the said business interests; 5) the Al-Thani family owned the concerned properties in London through offshore companies, and allowed members of the Sharif family to occupy and use the same, subject to payment of ground rent and service charges; 6) later, in 2006, Mr. Hussain Nawaz and the Al-Thani family settled their accounts, as a result of which shares of the offshore Companies (that own the properties in London) were transferred in the name of Mr. Hussain Nawaz; 7) resultantly, the London properties came under the ownership of the Sharif family without any cash transaction or money trail; 8) Since Mr. Hussain Nawaz is a UK resident there is no obligation on him to file his tax returns in Pakistan; And 9) since Mr. Hussain Nawaz is not a dependent of the Prime Minister, there was no obligation on the Prime Minister to declare the said assets in his tax returns or electoral filings.

In the aftermath, during the course of the JIT proceedings, repeated attempts were made to reach out to the Mr. Al-Thani, but he refused to appear before the JIT. Instead, he invited the JIT members to come to Qatar for the recording of his testimony. After some back and forth, the JIT members went to Qatar, and invited Mr. Al-Thani to come to the Pakistani Embassy in Doha, for a recording of this statement. Mr. Al-Thani refused, and instead insisted that his statement be recorded in his ‘palace’. This, the JIT refused to do… as a result of which JIT’s final report does not include the direct testimony/inquiry of Mr. Al-Thani.

As could have been expected, the PML-N leadership is using this impasse as a flashpoint to claim that they will ‘reject’ any JIT report that does not include the testimony of Mr. Al-Thani. And opposition consistently claims that the responsibility of bringing Mr. Al-Thani before the JIT members was that of PML-N; and that they have failed to do as much.

In the circumstances, an important question for the honorable Court to consider would be: was it the responsibility of JIT members to go all the way to Mr. Al-Thani’s palace, or was it the responsibility of Sharif family to produce Mr. Al-Thani before the JIT members?

Depending on partisan proclivities, the answer to this question may differ. But at least in terms of our jurisprudence and the law, it is the responsibility of ‘party relying on the evidence’ to produce such evidence. In simpler words (barring legal exceptions), in a criminal trial, it is the defendants’ responsibility to produce ‘defence witnesses’ and the prosecution’s responsibility to produce ‘prosecution witnesses’.

Even otherwise, neither the honorable Court, nor the Petitioners, brought up the Mr. Al-Thani, during the course of Panama case proceedings. Sharif family counsels voluntarily introduced this personality (and his letters), and repeatedly claimed that he will be available appear in our jurisdiction and testify as to the veracity of his claims, as and when required. In fact, per the media reports of the time, the honorable Court repeatedly asked Sharif family counsels if Mr. Al-Thani will be willing to appear before the court… to which an answer was given in the affirmative.

Now, with less than 24 hours left in the submission of JIT’s final report, it seems disingenuous for the Sharif family to go back on their earlier assurance, and claim that JIT must walk to Mr. Al-Thani’s door for a recording of his statement. It may be a plausible political move… however, less then brilliant legal strategy.

Absence of Mr. Al-Thani’s statement in the JIT report will surely become a basis for filing of an ‘objection’, by Sharif family’s legal team. And the final fate of the matter (this way or that) will be decided by the honorable Supreme Court.

In the meantime, however, this disingenuous stance by PML-N supporters, including some of the most senior Federal Ministers, is just that: disingenuous. And if they think that the people of Pakistan cannot see through it, they have another thing coming.

The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School.