NationalVolume 12 Issue # 18

Nawaz Sharif hits dead-end?

In temporary relief for the ruling party, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has decided against disqualification of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. However, the family will be investigated, like criminals, for two months and discussion on TV talk shows and social media on the court verdict would further taint their images. The court has ordered criminal investigations against the prime minister and his family, which will be completed in 60 days. The judgment contains only one favour for the Sharif family, that it stopped short of removing the prime minister. The only thing that is lacking in the ruling for the opposition is that the court has not asked the prime minister to step down as the investigation completes. The ruling party, without going into details of the court verdict, distributed sweets and held rallies throughout the country. TV channels also carried tickers that the prime minister would address the nation in the evening after the “great achievement.” However, a careful reading of the judgment probably forced him to abandon the plan.

The court, in a 3-2 split decision, ordered the formation of a joint investigation team (JIT) to probe the allegations of financial irregularities and money laundering, noting that at present, there is “insufficient evidence to remove Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.” The joint investigation team will summon the premier and his sons Hussain and Hassan and present its reports to a special bench of the Supreme Court fortnightly. The team will include representatives from the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), Military Intelligence (MI), Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP), State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) and National Accountability Bureau (NAB). Some analysts fear the joint investigation team will fail to reach any conclusion, as was the case with joint investigation teams, constituted to investigate some cases in the past. However, all past investigation teams worked under the government. The new team will be supervised by the Supreme Court. Though all institutions tasked with the investigation, except the ISI and MI, work under the government, yet their officials will be directly answerable to the court. It will not be possible for them to unduly favour the prime minister and his family. In Pakistan, joint investigation teams are usually formed to probe killers and criminals, like Uzair Baloch and Ajmal Pahari. It will be humiliating for the prime minister and his family to appear, like hardened criminals, before the head of the team, who would be a grade 18 officer.

Analysts say he should resign to save the honour of his office. The team will ask specific questions from the family, raised by the court. The questions include how the Gulf Steel Mills came into being? What were its liabilities and where have the sale proceeds been used?” Where Hussain and Hassan managed to put together the means to purchase the multi-million dollar properties and assets in the early 1990s? The majority verdict also questions how the bearer certificates were converted into flats in London, ownership of Nelson and Nescol was acquired and where from sources of the working capital arrived? Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Gulzar Ahmed called for the disqualification of Prime Minister Nawaz on the basis that he was no longer “Sadiq and Amin” under Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution. Other three members of the bench, Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed and Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan, did not differ with the observations of the dissenting judges, but said more investigations were needed to reach aconclusion. It appears a unanimous decision will be made after the findings of the joint investigation team. Matters do not auger well for the PM. The biggest problem for the Sharif family to defend their case is that the court has rejected a letter, supposedly written by a Qatari prince, presented in the court, to prove their innocence in allegations of money laundering. Two judges of the Supreme Court ruled that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif must be unseated for being dishonest under the Articles 62, 63 of the Constitutions. It is damning for the prime minister. Their dissenting notes call for the prime minister to immediately step down.

The three other judges, did not differ with their stance, but said they wanted more investigations to confirm the findings of their fellow judges. In a way, all the five judges do not think the prime minister is honest, though three have ordered investigations to clear their doubts. The Supreme Court is not a trial court. If it had disqualified the prime minister, he had no forum to appeal to. He could claim public sympathy by presenting himself as a victim of “judicial activism”. Law experts could say the court had made the judgment without proper investigations and denying him a chance of a fair trial. It could have been accused of working as a constitutional and trial court at the same time. To avoid controversy, the court formed a joint investigation team. After the investigations, no one should have an issue with the final judgment. The joint investigation team, unlike past experience, will not be able to delay the probe because it has been given a list of questions to be asked from the ruling family and it has just 60 days to complete its task. The court has already rejected the Qatari letter. The ruling family will have to present some new evidence to prove its innocence. It had produced the letter in the court after hectic efforts of many months, which was their only defence against the allegations of money laundering and tax evasion. The court has undercut the defence by rejecting the letter. If the ruling family produces new documents to prove its innocence, it will be tantamount to perjury. It appears the ruling family has escaped the bear, only to fall prey to the lion.