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Panama verdict and beyond
 
NASIM AHMED

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As anticipated by some keen political observers, the Supreme Court verdict
in the Panama case is a split one. There is neither a clean chit nor
disqualification for PM Nawaz Sharif. The final verdict, ordering the formation
of a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to probe how the Nawaz Sharif
family's money was transferred to Qatar was 3-2 among the five-judge
bench, with two dissenting notes from Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice
Gulzar Ahmed.
It was an epochal judicial case: one of its kind in the country's judicial
history. In the dock was prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his family accused
of corruption by major political parties of Pakistan,the PTI being
the most prominent among them. The hearings were initiated by the
Chief Justice of Pakistan following a dangerous state of confrontation
between the PTI and PML-N over earth shaking disclosures in the
Panama Papers about the offshore accounts and properties held by the
Sharif family abroad. The Panama case hearings took about two months
and then after 57 days of wait, the court delivered its verdict, saying that
it does not have enough evidence to give a clear decision, but it does
have enough doubts to demand a joint investigation team to probe Prime
Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family.
The two judges who ruled against PM Nawaz Sharif said he shouldbe disqualified as he could no longer be considered "honest" and "truthful"
(ameen and sadiq), whereas the other three were in favour of forming
a JIT to definitively answer the question of whether the allegations
against the prime minister were true or not.
The bench, comprising Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, Justice Gulzar
Ahmed, Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, Justice Azmat Saeed and Justice Ijazul
Ahsan, had examined arguments presented by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-
Insaf (PTI), the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), the Watan Party and the All Pakistan
Muslim League, who framed the case out of court as a campaign against
corruption. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz, Hassan
Nawaz, Hussain Nawaz, retired Capt. Muhammad Safdar (the PM's sonin-
law) and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar were among the respondents in
the case.
In its short order, the Supreme Court has remarked that there are
many questions about the foreign assets of Nawaz Sharif family that remain
unanswered. These relate to the ownership of Gulf Steel Mill and
London flats as well as the unverified Qatari letters. In the operative part
of the order, the Court has criticized the NAB chairman for failing to do
his job and decided to constitute a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) comprising
representatives of FIA, NAB, SECP, SBP, ISI and MI
The JIT shall investigate the case and collect evidence regarding the
culpability of Nawaz Sharif and his family members and submit its periodical
reports every two weeks. The JIT shall complete the investigation
and submit its final report before the said Bench within a period of sixty
days from the date of its constitution. The order requests the Chief Justice
to constitute a Special Bench to ensure implementation of this judgment
so that the "investigation into the allegations may not be left in a
blind alley."
From a political perspective, the verdict has turned out to be a winwin
situation for all. While the verdict has been hailed by the ruling party
as a victory,the PTI says that its point of view has been upheld by the
Supreme Court by its decision to form a JIT.The PTI has also demanded
that the prime minister temporarily step aside to allow the JIT to work independently.
Although political observers and some leading political figures are not
very optimistic about the JIT delivering any positive outcome for the opposition,
let us hope the JIT will fulfil its task within the stipulated time
paving the way for justice to be done in the larger interest of the country.
For, at the heart of the Panama case lies the principle of accountability
of the powerful. Without strict accountability, democracy cannot survive
or flourish.
In the days ahead, political pressure will increase on the PML-N government.
The PTI and PPP have already demanded that Prime Minister
Nawaz resign on moral grounds. But as the past record shows, Nawaz
Sharif is a hard nut to crack. Come what may, he will not step down from
his high seat which is the source of all the powers he wields.
A special reason why Nawaz Sharif would like to remain in power is
the prospect of early elections. In Pakistan polls are a game of patronage.
From this perspective, a sitting government enjoys a distinct advantage
over the opposition parties. The opposition is divided and disparate
but even so it will not miss any opportunity to attack the government
which is facing several challenges, including the unabated prolonged
summer power outrages and rising consumer prices.
The coming few months will be a severe test of the political acumen
of both the government and the opposition. The opposition will be on the
offensive while the government will be in a defensive position. If an adverse
verdict comes out of the Panama investigations, the PML-N will
have a hard time retaining its perch in power.

 

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