Two P.M on April 20th was the most popular TV hour in Pakistan as Pakistanis thronged in front of TV sets to hear the Supreme Court verdict on the fate of their Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The case against Nawaz Sharif carried allegations of money laundering and corruption after Sharif family’s name appeared in the infamous Panama Leaks in early 2016.
In its judgment, the Supreme Court ordered the formation of a Joint Investigative Team with the responsibility to ascertain the answers to ten questions raised by the apex court. The questions fundamentally ask how, when and where did the Prime Minister and his family raise the money to acquire off shore companies and extravagant European real estate. The joint investigative team will be headed by the Federal Investigative Agency (FIA) and will include members of intelligence, including Pakistan’s foremost military intelligence the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). It is to submit its report no later than sixty days after its formation. The process of formation of the JIT is to complete within seven days of the court order. The JIT can call the Prime Minister and his two sons for questioning.
There are two important aspects of this Order. First, during the six months long hearing, it was amply revealed that the Prime Minister and his family were unable to show a clear and credible money trail that lay behind their acquisition of off shore companies and the extravagant London real estate publicly owned by Nawaz Sharif’s immediate family. Secondly, it is the first time in the history of Pakistan that a Prime Minister will be investigated by a federal investigatory agency while he is still holding office. After turning the lights on the fundamental realities of the case during Panama case hearing under rigorous media scrutiny, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has handed the matter for investigation over to where it really belongs, Pakistan’s federal investigatory institutions. The hearing in the Supreme Court has thus minimized the possibility of Shady deals between the high and mighty and the investigative officers involved in the case.
This is a sober judgment. It is in contrast to the judgment of the Supreme Court which was rendered in 2013 after Tahir Ul Qadri petitioned for reconstitution of the Election Commission of Pakistan. Back then, the court rendered a subversive judgment when it refused to acknowledge Tahir ul Qadri’s locus standi because the latter held dual nationality of Canada as well as Pakistan.
In the instant case, the Supreme Court intervened in the escalating show down between the Pakistan Tehrik-e-insaf and the ruling PML(N) over Panama Leaks and took suo moto notice of the charges leveled against the Prime Minister by assembling court in November 2016 to hear both sides. The court thus not only defused the political tension at the time, it also created a situation for the Prime Minister of Pakistan wherein the latter could not get away with revelations in Panama Leaks by strong arming the opposition that was busy agitating on the streets, calling for Prime Minister’s resignation and scrutiny of his assets. Through its order of April 20, 2017, the apex court has created an opportunity for the investigative institutions of Pakistan to do what they are paid to do and in the process has steered the country on the path to institutional development.
Is the trouble for the Prime Minister over? Not at all. The Supreme Court could declare the Prime Minister ineligible to hold office after the JIT report is submitted. If Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had answers to the questions raised by the Supreme Court, he would have submitted them during the six months long hearing that lasted from November 2016 to April 2017.
What follows now is a sobriety test for all involved in this matter.
The Prime Minister has to show that he is capable of handling his personal financial crises in a manner that does not adversely impact his country and the party he founded under the name of PML (N), and thus set an example for Pakistan’s future leaders. The FIA will have to prove its own functionality in a transparent manner to evolve into a viable state institution for all times to come. The political parties who take their wars to the streets will have to learn to defer to institutions instead because they can work if pressure is exerted wisely.
If any of the above mentioned actors fails to act soberly, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif could still be removed from office, but through nasty means instead of the ones laid out in the law of the land.
The Supreme Court of Pakistan has done superbly thus far. It has averted a political crisis, reinforced the power of national institutions and prevented a sitting head of state from strong arming into silence his opponents’ call for accountability.