The sentencing of Former Federal Minister for Religious Affairs, Hamid Saeed Kazmi – along with Director General (DG) Haj Rao Shakeel and Joint Secretary for Religious Affairs Aftab Aslam – for the Hajj corruption case comes as a bit of a surprise. After several weeks at the epicenter of media attention in 2010, the case acquired the same anonymous routine that has ground many a trial into dust. With the changing political scenario brought by the 2013 general election, and a host of new controversies to examine, many had felt that the quite respectfully bearded former minister would find a way to continue living a respectable life.

Sadly, the diligence of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and the law enforcement agencies prevented such dreams of paradise from coming true for the Minister and his cronies. Instead our religious affairs representatives will be asked to contemplate the prospect of a purgatory in the bowels of Adiala Jail for heavy terms – 40 years in the case of Mr Rao Shahkeel.

While they still have the option of appealing the decision and the sentence, considering the overwhelming amount of evidence gathered by the FIA the chance of the decision being overturned is minimal. Same goes for the sentence; it may be an onerous one, but receiving kickbacks while administering the holy pilgrimage and defrauding pilgrims who have put all their trust – and in many cases all their money – in the hands of the Hajj directorate makes their actions more despicable than instances of everyday corruption in other departments. In some other department, the lustrous beard of Mr Kazmi may given prosecutors a moral pause, in this case, it just adds two more years to the sentence.

Another surprise – one many might say it is the bigger one – is that the bureaucracy managed to convict an ex-federal Minister and his equally well connected cronies on their own without a popular political movement backing their actions. Not only does this dent the misconception that politicians can only be sent to jail when a political rival is behind the conviction, it also restores a measure of lost legitimacy to the FIA, which has been seen as a body totally subservient to the will of the ruling party.

However, it is important to know that only ‘some’ measure of legitimacy has been restored, not a lot. The son of the former Prime Minister, Yousaf Raza Gillani, Qadir Gilani, was also implicated in the Hajj scandal, but he refused to cooperate with the FIA and hence escaped censure. Similarly the actions of the body during the Panama scandal haven’t been convincing either.

The FIA must realise that the body has the potential to become a true guardian of the people, if only it eschews subservience to the ruling parties.