There is a photograph in the 1973 Rolling Stones archives of a sullen man sitting in the US senate caucus room before a panel. It is John Mitchell, then Attorney General of the United States during the investigation that led to his 19 month imprisonment. The brutal senate committee hearings of that spring were broadcast into the living rooms of millions of Americans for two straight weeks, and in August of that year, after a straight-faced speech, President Richard Nixon resigned before his imminent impeachment.

Since then, there have been a great many high profile investigations into some of the world’s most powerful leaders. From Bill Clinton’s infamous impeachment to the lesser known Brit Home Secretary Jacqui Smith’s resignation (thanks to her husband’s 5 pound, pay-per-view porn habit). There’s Hillary of course, grilled to toast by the FBI in an investigation that many argue cost her the election. President Trump is currently under investigation for obstruction of justice. There’s Netanyahu investigated for expensive cigars and rare champagne, and not prosecuted enough of course for his more serious excesses. After the Panama Papers broke, Iceland’s Prime Minister resigned, and the Argentine and Pakistani leadership became ensnared in long-running public scandals, federal prosecutors, trials, and... joint investigation teams.

JIT. In Pakistan, perhaps the most widely used, best-hated acronym of our time. They’ve been around for a while, and many don’t realise they are mandatory under Pakistan’s Anti-terrorism Act every time a terrorism offence takes place. Perhaps this is why new mention of the word leads to an immediate national fatigue, a collective groan heard in rooms around the country. In our lifetime, few things in the world are as anti-climatic as an India-Pakistan cricket match, and a JIT.

“They say JIT again and I have to send my wife to the store for Kala Kola hair tonic. It’s making my beard go white,” laughs Anwar Khan, a DHA shopkeeper sitting among a mountain of shampoo sachets. He is a PML-N supporter who follows the news with avid interest on his small LCD TV set.

It’s close to how most feel. Despite two JIT’s formed after the Bhutto assassination, despite a delayed JIT that ineptly investigated the deaths of 259 people in the Baldia factory fire, it wasn’t really until the 2014 Model Town killings that JIT’s began pricking the curiosity of ordinary people. What in the world was a JIT, who were the investigators, and why wasn’t anything happening? Report after stale report, with controversies forgotten by the next news cycle, JIT’s dominated the popular narrative for a remarkably short amount of time despite the enormous burdens supposedly placed upon them.

And then came Panamagate. On April 20th, the country’s apex court ordered the establishment of yet another JIT to further investigate a sitting Prime Minister and his family, citing a lack of evidence. It was a frustrating moment for the country.

Since then, a recent highlight of the probe, apart from a lot of complaining that the institutions under the PM aren’t cooperating enough to possibly indict their boss, has been a leaked screen grab of Hussain Nawaz twiddling his thumbs for all we know, in a very white room.

It led to quite the fuss, and Sharif asked that a judicial commission be formed to investigate the leak. Who might’ve dared to destroy the pretty sensibilities of a money laundering investigation, after all? Who was small hearted enough to feed the circus and leak the photo? The opposition? The army? A bored employee with CCTV access? Who cares?

Public investigations are by now, a rather common part of judicial processes around the world. They are by nature theatrical and humiliating, and the public is interested in seeing powerful people falling from grace, or trapped in an all too human moment. It intrigues the imagination, it’s the stuff great novels are made of. Queens sent to the gallows, presidents being impeached, famous athletes on televised trial. Tiger Woods, David Petraeus, Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon, all of them had their Hussain Nawaz screen grab moment multiplied by a million. Does the public deserve to see the circus? I say it does. Guilty or not, the visuals are one half of the accountability process.

On Friday, the Prime Minister presented himself before the JIT. On Saturday, CM Shehbaz Sharif did the same. Soon afterwards, he gave himself high praise for showing up. Of course, they are allowed some political point scoring. The investigation must bring back memories they’d much rather forget, and never is the Sharif wound as fresh as when it is gazed upon by the Pakistan army. The Sharifs claim that their appearance before this team of investigators is history being made, but it really isn’t. CM Shehbaz and his Law Minister were interrogated by an admittedly spineless JIT just three years ago for the deaths of 14 people under their watch. The PPP and PML-N have endured trials, exile, corruption charges, murder investigations, jail time, with and (sometimes) without military rule. For a 70 year old country, it’s a rather hackneyed history being made over and over again, give or take a little transparency.

So best not to get teary eyed and nostalgic now. The public’s got short memories, and the JIT record speaks for itself. But the leadership might want to spare the nation the favour-talk, the this-is-history-and-we-are-heroes talk. Nobody’s a monk here, and to appear before a public or private court of accountability is the government’s civic duty, not an act of courtesy, or in fact, a matter of shame as PTI leader Imran Khan tweeted on Friday. No government ever died from public embarrassment. Not in Pakistan, anyway.

 

The writer is a member of staff.