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After the SC verdict: Nawaz Sharif’s challenges

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family are still in hot water. The prime minister is fully aware about the gathering political storm, yet he is not willing to concede. The apex court has ordered that a joint investigation team (JIT) should be constituted to probe further the Panama Papers scandal. But, many people, including political and religious leaders, analysts and TV anchors, have raised serious questions about the JIT’s ability to hold an impartial, fair and conclusive inquiry. Pakistan’s history shows that many JITs and commissions were formed but their reports could not be made public. So, the formation of a JIT for probing further Nawaz Sharif and his family’s corruption has already become controversial. In reality, the five-member bench, comprising Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, Justice Gulzar Ahmed, Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, Justice Azmat Saeed and Justice Ijazul Ahsan, of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, has not given a clean chit to the PM Nawaz Sharif and his family. Two judges, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Gulzar Ahmed have given their verdict against PM Nawaz Sharif. They said Nawaz Sharif should be disqualified as he could no longer be considered “honest” and “truthful” (ameen and sadiq – qualifiers for legislative office in the constitution). The 540-page judgement which starts from a popular quote, “Behind every great fortune there is a crime”, from Mario Puzo’s novel The Godfather is historic. It has given neither a clean chit nor disqualified the PM. Both the petitioners and the respondents in this case have welcomed the verdict and equally celebrated it by distributing sweets. Keeping aside the verdict, Panamagate itself is seminal, as it has exposed the PM and his family before the world. The investigation against PM Nawaz Sharif and his family will continue. Many analysts are of the view that the SC’s verdict to institute a JIT has given the PM some relief, because Nawaz Sharif knows that to prove the Sharif family’s corruption in 60 days will not be an easy task. The Panama verdict has also not said anything about Maryam Nawaz, who is the likely political successor to Nawaz Sharif.

It is also very interesting that the JIT comprises the officials of NAB, FIA, State Bank of Pakistan, Inter-Services Intelligence and Military Intelligence. The SC has already severely criticised the institutions, especially NAB and the FIA, for being ineffective and compromised. How can lower-ranking officials interrogate a sitting prime minister and his children? This is a question which many people, including TV anchors and thinkers, are asking in Pakistan. However, the SC has given a reassurance about justice. It has said that the special bench of the SC will be constituted to monitor the progress of the JIT proceedings. Then, the inclusion of the military spy agencies in a politically sensitive investigation has also made the JIT more controversial. Even, the PPP leader Aitzaz Ahsan has questioned the impartiality of the ISI chief. He has clearly said that the DG ISI is a relative of Maryam Nawaz and he should stay away from the inquiry. On the other hand, the army leadership has also promised to play its “due role” in the JIT probe. On 24 April, the Army’s senior command resolved at a Corps Commanders’ Conference at General Headquarters that the military would play its “due role” as part of the Supreme Court-ordered Joint Investigation Team (JIT) which will probe Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family’s business dealings abroad. Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) in a statement said the forum had discussed the apex court’s Panamagate verdict with special reference to the JIT. “The forum pledged that the institution, through its members in the JIT, shall play its due role in a legal and transparent manner, fulfilling [the] confidence reposed [in the military] by the apex court,” the ISPR said. This statement clearly shows that the army is taking a keen interest in the power game which is being played in the country. Zahid Hussain writes in The Nation: “Such controversies are certainly not good for the country’s premier security agency.

It is obvious that the growing political polarisation has brought the military leadership under immense pressure. There is a danger that the military could get more deeply involved in the crisis if the ongoing political confrontation becomes more serious. Every political crisis has consequences for the civil-military balance of power. A weakening of civilian authority invariably leads to the military gaining more space. We have seen this happening in the past and there are already some signs of the generals getting more assertive. Not a good omen for the democratic political process”. After the court’s verdict, there also emerges a question of moral legitimacy. But, in Pakistani politics, there exists no morality . Almost all politicians are immoral, corrupt, venal and unprincipled in Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif is a past master in breaking his promises and buying other politicians by using his wealth. So, he is not ready to tender his resignation on moral grounds. His refusal to resign has also raised the political temperature in the country. The main opposition parties, including the PTI, the PPP, the PML-Q, the JI, PAT, etc., have all become united in demanding the resignation of the prime minister after the court’s verdict. Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan said, “I demand Nawaz Sharif resign… Until the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) completes its probe. If you’re cleared within 60 days, you can return.” The PTI chairman congratulated the nation on the “historic” ruling. “This has never happened in the history of Pakistan.” “All five judges have decided that whatever Nawaz Sharif said, it has been rejected. The money trail, the sources of income ─ everything is in front of the nation… In other words, it has been declared a falsehood.” “The two most senior judges said to disqualify the PM,” Khan added. Imran Khan also held a rally for demanding Nawaz Sharif’s resignation in Islamabad on 28 April. “Nawaz Sharif should hand in his resignation,” former president Asif Ali Zardari said while addressing a press conference after the apex court’s verdict. “Mian sahab you have failed. You cannot run the government. Give someone else a chance to run the government,” he said. “A decision which the Supreme Court could not make, how will the Grade-19 officers under the PM decide the case?” he asked. “You have deceived the nation,” Zardari said. “I think it is evident now to the nation that Nawaz’s real face is not sharif.” PPP Senator Aitzaz Ahsan termed the dissenting notes “heavier than the decision of the other three judges.” “The two judges have declared the PM is disqualified. The decision of these two judges is the Supreme Court’s decision,” Ahsan said.

The Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies have also demanded the prime minister should step down. On 21 April, the Sindh Assembly passed a resolution moved by senior PPP leader Nisar Khuhro that said in light of the Supreme Court`s decision, PM Nawaz is not Saadiq and Ameen, hence he should immediately tender his resignation. On 25 April, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly approved the resolution on the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. In the Punjab Assembly, the PTI members are very vocal and demanding the PM’s resignation. The passage of resolutions for the resignation of the PM from the Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assemblies clearly show that the PM and PML-N will have to face great pressure from the opposition parties in the coming days. During the Imran- Qadri sit- in in Islamabad in 2014, the PPP gave support to Nawaz Sharif and saved his government. But, now, times have changed. All the main opposition parties are not only demanding the resignation of Nawaz Sharif, but also relentlessly criticising his family and his inept and corrupt government. Besides the opposition parties, the lawyers of the Lahore Bar Council have also announced to launch a movement to push the PM to resign. Nawaz Sharif has the following three options:- 1: He could accept the demand of the opposition parties and step down till the JIT’s final inquiry and verdict. Nawaz Sharif will not follow this option because he knows that he can easily control the institutions while he is in power. 2: He could announce an early election and seek a fresh mandate from the people of Pakistan to restore his moral right to govern. Nawaz Sharif and the PML-N should think over this option very seriously. In spite of the PTI’s popularity in the country , the PML-N is still very strong in the Punjab. The PPP is almost non-existent in the Punjab and KP. It is a fact that the Sharif brothers and the PML-N are ruling the Punjab for the last many years and they can win many seats again in the province. It is said, “The road to PM House in Islamabad passes through the Punjab”. 3: He could continue his rule till the elections due in 2018. If Nawaz Sharif and his party follow this option, then they will have to face a strong resistance from the opposition parties and the media. Nawaz Sharif, on the other hand, fully knows that Pakistan is not South Korea or Iceland where thousands of people had come out on the roads against the corruption charges against their leaders and forced them to resign. Nawaz Sharif has been enjoying power over the last 36 years.

The PML-N is continuously ruling the Punjab for the last nine years. The Nawaz family has also a firm hold on the Punjab police and Punjab-dominated bureaucracy. Since 2013, the PM and his government have already tackled three major challenges – the thorny relationship with the military establishment after the Dawn Leaks, facing at least two major rounds of street protests by the PTI leader Imran Khan and the PAT leader Tahir ul Qadri and the Panama papers scandal. Keeping in view this experience, Nawaz Sharif is hopeful about tackling this new pressure from the opposition parties successfully. That is why he is not thinking about tendering his resignation. The coming days will be very interesting, because one thing is very clear that Nawaz Sharif, his family and the PML-N government are still in deep trouble as the opposition parties like the PTI, the PPP, the JI, the PML-Q, etc., have taken a joint anti-Sharif stand. Nawaz Sharif will have to make more effective choices quickly if he wants to save the democratic system, improve his tarnished image, protect his political dynasty and secure his party’s popularity in the country.

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