PanamaGate Rattles Pak

Supreme Court ruling over alleged involvement of Nawaz Sharif in PanamaGate can destabilize Nawaz Sharif’s party as his party heavily depends upon the first family

By DANFES

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will have to step down as the result of a corruption case, the country’s Supreme Court ruling on July 28th as five judges unanimously disqualified him.

The Supreme Court had in April declared there was “insufficient evidence” to oust Sharif over the graft allegations engulfing his family, and ordered an investigation team to probe the matter. The team of civilian and military investigators found there was a “significant disparity” between the Sharif family’s income and lifestyle in its report submitted to the court earlier this month.

After the verdict, Sharif consulted senior party leaders and loyalists to formulate a policy to deal with the legal and political consequences of high-level inquiry report against him.

Sharif called his younger brother and Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif from Lahore who was part of a meeting attended by defence minister Khawaja Asif, railways minister Khawaja Saad Rafiq, interior minister Nisar Ali Khan, minister of planning and development Ahsan Iqbal and minister of petroleum Khaqan Abbasi and members of his legal team.

The Sharifs and their allies have consistently and noisily rejected the claims, with his ruling PML-N party this month dismissing the investigation team’s report as “trash”. Sharif has been ousted by graft allegations once before, during the first of his three terms as prime minister in 1993. He has not yet completed a term as prime minister, having been toppled in his second term by a military coup in 1999.

The controversy erupted last year with the publication of 11.5 million secret documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca documenting the offshore dealings of many of the world’s rich and powerful. Three of Sharif’s four children — Maryam, his presumptive political heir, and his sons Hasan and Hussein — were implicated in the papers.

At the heart of the case is the legitimacy of the funds used by the Sharif family to purchase several high-end London properties via offshore companies. The PML-N insists the wealth was acquired legally, through Sharif family businesses in Pakistan and the Gulf. The push against Sharif has been spearheaded by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, who said Sharif has lost “moral authority”.

The allegations are a blow to his credibility ahead of general elections due to be held by next year, and as the civilian government appears to have reached an uneasy detente with the military, which has ruled Pakistan for half of its existence. His party currently has no clear successor in place. Daughter Maryam does not hold public office, while his brother Shahbaz Sharif, the current chief minister of Punjab province, holds only a provincial seat.

ROLE OF ARMY

The Pakistan army has not officially reacted so far. During the course of the investigation as well, the army has refused to take a stand. However, a Dawn report pointed out that the army is keeping a close watch over the developments. An ISPR statement said, “The forum reiterated to continue supporting and enabling national efforts to play positive role in line with Pakistan’s national interests. Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa presided over the meeting.”

While the statement does not talk of the ongoing crisis in direct terms, the report added that the timing of the meeting itself pointed out to army’s keen interest in directing the political course of the country.

If at all the Pakistan Army enters into the picture, then it will be for the second time after 1993, when the army intervened to force President Ghulam Ishaq Khan and then Sharif to resign over corruption charges. Notably, the army may even invoke the “Doctrine of Necessity” to take over the reins.

The Doctrine of Necessity is an idea unique to Pakistan, which justified the takeover of “extra-constitutional powers” to stabilise the country. Often, the military has used this idea to justify its takeover of the country.

POLL GAMBLE

An editorial in the Dawn urged Sharif to resign during the length of the investigation and appoint a new caretaker prime minister. The editorial argued that if there is a mid-term election without Sharif being the prime minister, it will greatly help the embattled PML(N) leader to improve his image and dismiss questions of his interference in the JIT investigation.

The idea of installing a new prime minister was in the offing even in April, when the Pakistan supreme court ordered the probe against Sharif. Back then, the names of Ghulam Ishaq Dar and Shahbaz Sharif were doing the rounds. It is to be noted that the term of the current parliament ends in May 2018.

The Panama papers controversy erupted last year, wherein 11.5 million secret documents from Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca documented the offshore dealings of many of the world’s rich and powerful. Among the global elite implicated were three of Sharif’s four children — his daughter and presumptive political heir Maryam, and his sons Hasan and Hussein.

At the heart of the matter is the legitimacy of the funds used by the Sharif family to purchase several high-end London properties via offshore companies. The government insists the wealth was acquired legally through family businesses in Pakistan and the Gulf.