Now that the Supreme Court has seen fit to begin the judgement in the Panamagate case with a quote from The Godfather, itself quoting from Balzac, it might be appropriate to seek among film titles for one that might encapsulate the judgement itself. Film titles, because The Godfather won fame as a movie, which not only won it the Oscar for Best Movie, but also two others, of seven nominations. Its sequel, the Godfather II, also won Best Picture, in seven Oscars in 10 nominations. One is reminded of the earlier 1959 Peter Sellers starrer, The Mouse That Roared, or perhaps the 1996 Bruce Willis starrer, Last Man Standing.

Of course, if the reading of their lordships had extended upward from their lawbooks to Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, rather than downward to The Godfather, there might have been the temptation of quote Shylock “A judgement! A Daniel come to judgement!” Perhaps the salient feature of the judgements is that it has allowed stalwarts of both parties an opportunity for celebration. It has stopped short of removing Mian Nawaz Sharif from office by disqualifying him from membership of the National Assembly. Yet it has by no means given him a clean bill of health. It has once again dangled over his head the Damocles’ sword of disqualification, by setting up a Joint Investigation Team, whose report one way or the other, will determine the decisions of the three judges who have not yet found him liable to disqualification. Two judges are already convinced, and have so found. However, they could reverse their opinion if they find that the JIT explains the money trail for the Mayfair flats satisfactorily.

Therefore, quite evidently the JIT is of importance. It has been widely speculated that a JIT would not be able to do justice to its task when that task is the determination of the boss’ guilt. It should be kept in mind that the JIT’s boss is the Supreme Court, not the Prime Minister. It should also be kept in mind that two of the JIT members do not answer to the Prime Minister in the indirect sense of their bosses doing so: The Directors-General of Military Intelligence and Inter-Services Intelligence are appointed by the Chief of Army Staff, and though the DGISI normally reports to the Prime Minister, both are considered to be the COAS’ men. The officers below them also consider themselves as falling within the PM’s purview through the COAS. Does the COAS think himself the PM’s subordinate? The organisation charts might show that, but the tradition of takeovers, and of the worship lavished on the position of COAS, makes the office an independent power centre and political actor. The individuals who end up on the JIT will be beholden to the COAS for their futures, whether or not the PM remains in office. The Corps Commanders Conference seems to have made this overt, by saying that it will support the process.

The JIT will also be responsible to the Supreme Court. This will be an important factor, for it will mean that it will not work at cross-purposes to the bench. The possibility of prime ministerial pressure will not arise, because he will not be able to post out any officials. The PM’s remaining in office will not matter, because he will be unable to exert immediate pressure. Any pressure is for a relatively remote future, and depends on the PM’s position as the competent authority for approving promotions and postings. If the PM is back, he may wreak revenge then, in an indeterminate future. Even if Mian Nawaz was to resign, his ability to wield influence would be diminished, not eliminated. This would be the case even if there was a dissolution and a caretaker PM. Mian Nawaz would still be a potential PM. However, bureaucrats have proved able to handle situations where they find themselves the servants of those they have persecuted at the behest of earlier political masters of the opposite party.

At one level, the independence and neutrality of the military officers should provide an example for the civilian officials; the key lies in the character of the individual. However, the assumed neutrality of military officials disguises the fact that they may not serve the purposes of the government or the bench, but of the COAS. In this way, the military is given a veto power over the civilian government. This is consistent with the PTI’s purposes, and fits the assumption that the PTI serves the military’s political needs, especially now that it is no longer an overt political party, as it is during martial laws.

Another factor that should be noted is that it remains a political case. In that sense, whatever the decision, the two parties would take positions about the judgement itself that corresponded to their original party positions. The merits of the case have nothing to do with the view taken of the judgement. This comes of the case having political consequences. At the least, the judgement is likely to be quoted in any future election campaign, which is not that far off. At the latest, the election is due next autumn.

Even if the present government continues till then, it will have to sustain opposition criticism mined from the judgement. The Supreme Court should not expect the PTI to be very scrupulous about precision while quoting the judgement. Indeed, the PTI should not be expected to maintain the sanctity of the judgement. Then the election campaign will centre on the judgement, and then the Supreme Court should expect accuracy to be sacrificed almost as a matter of course. In short, the judgement contains nothing to stop politicians from being politicians.

The problem the Supreme Court continues to face is that of legitimacy. The present case alone will not yield it that which it desires, but will serve as a brick in the edifice it wants to build. Even now, the US Supreme Court is seen as acting in partisan fashion in political cases, but its decisions are accepted. There may be a contrast drawn between the acceptance that George W Bush received after being elected President in 2008, something which happened even though he had received fewer votes than his opponent, and the continuing protests that Donald Trump is facing today. It should be noted that Bush was installed after winning an election dispute about the Florida vote in the Supreme Court; Trump needed no such judicial validation. Where PTI supporters can point to the Panamagate decision to support their contention that Mian Nawaz is corrupt, PML(N) supporters can claim that he was not unseated, and thus has a sort of judicial support.

If the JIT report does make even one more judge call for Mian Nawaz’s disqualification, it would leave the PML(N) having to decide on whether to stagger on for the fag-end of the term, or opt for an early election. Of course, the PML(N) might avoid all that by dissolving a little earlier, but nothing will restore to it its natural leader. Perhaps, with a judgement that quotes from Puzo, it is permissible to quote from Shakespeare, Macbeth to be precise: “We have scotched the snake, not killed it.” That would be the quote Imran Khan might use, had he actually read anything, rather than get into Oxford for his cricket.