There is popular perception, supported by leaders of the two largest opposition parties, that the PM has lost all moral authority to hold the office and as such he should step down
Mother of all judgments seems to be an appropriate description for the split verdict in the mega corruption case involving Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his immediate family members. The verdict will have wide-ranging ramifications and can lead to several ominous possibilities. Two senior most Supreme Court judges, who are in line of succession to be the next chief justice of Pakistan, seem to have tried to put the record straight for Pakistan’s apex judiciary that has been associated with some questionable decisions in the past.
Mr. Justice Asif Saeed Khosa has put it plainly in his verdict that Mr. Sharif is neither sadiq nor ameen and that he should be de-notified as a member of the Parliament. The other senior judge, Mr Justice Gulzar Ahmed, has also declared that the PM is a liar and has been dishonest.
While agreeing with these observations of their seniors, the three other judges have opted for an investigation into the laundering charges and for the money trail. The establishment of a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to fill in gaps left behind because of the inadequate presentation of facts before the SC is a unanimous view of all the five judges.
There is a popular perception affirmed by statements given by leaders of the two largest opposition parties that the PM has lost all moral authority to hold the office and as such he should step down. This view is held by those outside of Pakistan as well. This time, former President Asif Ali Zardari seems ready to take the bull by the horn. PPP and PTI have separately started public agitation demanding Mr. Sharif’s resignation.
Contrarily, PML-N leaders have come out in a state of euphoria considering the judgment to be a victory — perhaps they have yet to read the over 500-page long text of the verdict.
I would not like to bracket the PM with the likes of Uzair Baloch or other criminals who have been subjected to investigations by JITs. Probably, he and his camp thinks that it will be easier to influence grade 19/20 officers to be notified by the Ministry of Interior to question the PM and those in cahoots with him, and track down the trail of laundered out of the country.
I have heard the state minister for information saying on television that in response to the opposition’s demand for his to resignation following Panama Leaks revelations last April the PM had offered to constitute a similar inquiry commission. However, the offer had been rejected by Imran Khan. According to her, the JIT is nothing but an old wine presented in a new bottle. Hence, its formation vindicates the PM.
It does seem doubtful that a fair inquiry could be done in the presence of officers from organisations against whom serious strictures were passed by the bench during case proceedings. Two of these — the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) — had been charged with serious dereliction of their mandated responsibilities. The organisations had been found to be criminally negligent in not proceeding against the PM despite Finance Minister Ishaq Dar’s confessional statement. Dar had admitted to his role in laundering money for his boss.
Opposition Leader in the Senate Barrister Atizaz Ahsan, too, has questioned the composition of the JIT. Except the nominee of the Military Intelligence (MI), who would be directly responsible to the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), other members of the JIT, including the one from the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), would work one ministry or the other. These members are likely to remain loyal to the PM. Against this backdrop, it would seem to be a joke to imagine that a group of grade 19/20 officers will be able to question the PM or his sons. However, there is a reassurance that justice will be seen to have done by the special bench of the SC to be constituted to monitor the progress of JIT proceedings.
It would have been a national catastrophe if the judgment had just given a clean bill of health to the PM. This is not to say that what we got was a perfect verdict. After all, Prime Minister’s daughter found no mention in the verdict. However, it could still begin a process that may lead to an end of the House of Sharif’s rule. From now until next year, the PM would be on the anvil. Besides opposition parties, the lawyers community has also decided to launch a movement to push the PM to resign. By 2018, the PML-N could very well have drowned under a plethora of serious charges against its PM, his family members, and ministers like Ishaq Dar.
It is too early to subscribe to the view that many of the PML-N stalwarts may be getting ready to jump ship or the party workers may be rehearsing for what eventually comes out to be just a swansong. But the PM would do well to seek saner advice and resign from his office instead of facing a humiliating submission before grade 19/20 officers of the JIT. He has been in power for much too long and his image is tarnished at the moment. To stick to power by means other than fair could lead to consequences that even outsiders would not be able to save him from. TheDailyTimes
The writer is a former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist