Khan Vs Sharif

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 Maintaining status quo, or bringing true change?

The proceedings of the Panama Papers case against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif are underway by a five member Supreme Court (SC) bench headed by CJP Jamali. It took some doing on the part of both the PML-N and PTI to convince the SC to hear the case and end the persistent deadlock on the matter.

Seven months ago in a blunt reply to the PM’s letter requesting the SC court to form a commission; CJP Jamali wrote that any commission under the ‘Commission of Inquiry Act 1956’ would be ‘toothless’, suggesting a new law had to be made. The SC had since maintained its distance from the controversial leak, leaving the PTI and PML-N to their own devices.

After months of fruitless negotiations it took just three days of protests by PTI workers (who were arrested by the hundreds along with heavy handedness of the police) and a continuous threat from Imran Khan (IK) to shut down the capital, for the SC to hear the case before things got bloody.

Yet again, IK’s method of getting what he wants through street agitation worked as it provided him an opportunity to call off the ‘shut down’ and simply celebrate the SC decision with a singular “thanksgiving Jalsa” at the already designated protest venue ‘parade ground’.

In the days since, the five member bench has asked for all documentary evidence and replies from the PM and his children regarding the London apartments. Both sides have complied albeit with some delays from Nawaz and some irrelevant and unnecessary ‘evidence’ provided by PTI. Nonetheless it seems a verdict in the matter will come in due course.

The Sharifs will try their best to delay any decision preferably until election time. The SC has already removed two sitting PM’s during the PPP government so there is precedent. Nawaz is already on the road, promoting and laying landmarks for energy projects and motorways – something he hopes will divert attention from the case against him and hopefully secure another five-year term.

Changing the children’s lawyers from Mr Butt to Mr Sheikh, submitting a letter from a Qatari prince stating he gifted the apartments to the Sharif family back in the day as evidence and an affidavit by the Sharif’s cousin, Muhammad Tariq Shafi, declaring him legal owner of all business ventures are all delaying tactics. All the evidence is new and released in a suspiciously well-timed manner.

Khan wanted a decision on the case seven months ago. In usual fashion he took an extreme approach, asking the PM to resign and present himself for investigation. With the case now being heard by a reluctant SC, one hoped that the PTI would return to parliamentary politics. Sadly that is not the case. It seems the only remedy for Khan’s lack of trust in state institutions is that they never give a decision that doesn’t go in his favour.

By deciding not to attend the address by Turkish president Erdogan to a joint session of parliament Khan has reiterated that lack of trust. As with most strategic decisions in PTI, only a handful of senior leaders in the party – the same ones who were nowhere to be seen on the streets in Islamabad during the recent lockdown call- were consulted. What democracy does IK speak of when there is a visible undemocratic streak within the running of his own party?

This boycott sets a bad precedent as well. Any opposition party that does not see eye to eye with the ruling government – something that is usually the case- can simply boycott events being attended by international dignitaries by citing self-serving rationale. The argument that the party won’t attend any sitting under a controversial PM is invalid considering Erdogan is here on the President’s invitation not the PM.

A visit from the Turkish Ambassador to convince Khan to attend the address proved futile. It is hard to believe that even the top leadership that includes some seasoned politicians were in favour of this nonsensical decision. With two ex-foreign ministers as advisors one would think the use of logic and diplomacy would have prevailed, but then again maybe they weren’t consulted or their advice was given less weightage.

The SC has urged PTI lawyers to provide concrete and concise evidence, not factoids generated by the media. That the party’s legal team led by Hamid Khan has submitted a plethora of so called ‘proof’ goes against the SC’s instructions.

It suits the PTI that the matter does not end up in the hands of a one-man commission under the terms of reference decided by the SC, as it would take longer for a definitive decision. It will be interesting to see how IK responds to a commission or a verdict in Sharif’s favour. In case the latter happens it is safe to say that all the talk of ‘trust in the judiciary’ will be swiftly chucked out the window and replaced by ‘the judiciary too is corrupt and bought’ – “rigged” as Trump would put it.

Nawaz Sharif’s plate is pretty full these days. Apart from having to provide proof of a legal money trail to the highest court in the Panama case he is faced with a decision to appoint the next Chief of Army Staff (COAS) in ten days not to mention the investigation into information leaked about a high level meeting where a civ-mil spat took place as reported by an English daily.

There has been no formal indication from the PM’s office that a decision has been made or that names are being considered – just rumours based on a list of the senior most generals who are in line for retirement. That Raheel Sharif had announced he would not take an extension rather prematurely (in January) only raises further questions about the delay in the announcement that should have ideally been made at least two months back for an effective transition.

The matter of the leaked story will continue to loom over Sharif’s head until he gives up a prominent person(s) from his kitchen cabinet. The appointment of a Punjab based judge to head the investigation committee suggests Sharif wants to maintain control in order to avoid any untoward outcome.

Imran Khan promises change yet resorts to an autocratic style of leadership within his party similar to PML-N’s fashion of running things. Maybe he believes that the only legitimate parliament and government is the one where he is Prime Minister. For that to happen he will have to win in 2018 via a democratic and constitutionally legal transfer of power. Returning to parliamentary politics while strategising for the upcoming elections would be a first step in that direction.

Nawaz Sharif should really settle army matters on his table to ease the load. Maintaining the status quo suits the PML-N just fine but Imran Khan keeps the Sharifs on their toes, which is an effective opposition’s job – something the PPP still refuses to fully commit to. Both parties should accept the Supreme Court’s decision given they have both expressed trust and faith in the judiciary and work towards a second democratic transfer of power which is preferably less controversial than the previous one.