Sharif’s Pyrrhic victory

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A bumpy road ahead

 

Khosa comparing Sharif to a mafia don has clearly implied that the prime minister is a crook who amassed his fortune through illegal means

 

The prime minister just narrowly escaped disqualification in the Panamagate case majority verdict given by a five-member bench of the apex court. But a stinging denouement against Sharif came from the senior judge Justice Asif Saeed Khosa heading the bench and his colleague Justice Gulzar Ahmed.

Khosa, next in line to become the chief justice, in his minority 3-2 judgment quoted from Mario Puzo’s novel ‘The Godfather’ that eulogised a fictional mafia don. Puzo, in the novel, invokes French author Honor de Balzac‘s dictum: behind every great fortune there is a crime.

Khosa comparing Sharif to a mafia don has clearly implied that the prime minister is a crook who amassed his fortune through illegal means. Both the minority judges have recommended that Sharif be disqualified from the national assembly, as he is no longer ‘Sadiq or Ameen’ (honest person) under the constitution.

The rest of the judges have ordered the formation of a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) headed by a deputy director of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and comprising nominees from the Security and Exchange Commission (SECP), National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP).

Surprisingly, they have also ordered inclusion of Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and Military intelligence (MI) nominees in the JIT. This is rather odd as it clearly involves the military in matters purely civilian.

It also clearly demonstrates the Supreme Court‘s — itself a civilian institution — lack of confidence in state investigation agencies. The military has its own system of accountability and does not brook any interference of civilian institutions in the process.

Theoretically this principal should work both ways. Certainly this does not auger well for the future of democratic institutions and civilian supremacy.

Interestingly, the PPP has rejected the JIT on the grounds that it will not be independent of the influence of the Sharifs. However, the party is silent about the khaki members of the proposed body.

It can be argued that civilian investigation agencies, incompetent and corrupt, are rotten to the core. Being under the thumb of the government of the day they can hardly probe a sitting prime minister. In the judgment the apex court has castigated chairman NAB for being disinterested in re-opening the Hudaibiya Paper Mills case involving the prime minister’s family and finance minister, Ishaq Dar.

The JIT will be reporting to a three-member special bench comprising Supreme Court judges that will be formed by the Chief Justice of Pakistan for the purpose. Nonetheless such a body to probe the prime minister is going to be a novel experiment, the first of its kind in Pakistan.

However, it is not unusual in other democratic countries. Under the American system an independent special prosecutor is appointed for the purpose. Most recently the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was probed in a corruption scandal concerning his ties with top executives in media, international business and Hollywood.

Last month police entered his residence for the fourth time to question him. Incidentally, the hardliner prime minister of the Jewish state is one of its richest politician with an estimated worth of $46 million.

Probably Sharif, unlike ordinary citizens, will be spared the humiliation of visiting an FIA or NAB interrogation centre or safe houses of the ISI and the MI. Perhaps the investigators will visit him at his home or office.

He will have to explain the origins of his wealth that enabled him and his family to buy millions of pounds worth of property in Mayfair, London. His ostensible source of funding is the proceeds from the sale of Gulf Steel Mills in Jeddah and the fabled family consort and benefactor the Qatari prince, Hamad Bin Jaber Al-Thani.

The prince’s two letters to the court became the butt of all kinds of jokes on social media. Will he be willing to convince the investigators with documentary evidence that Sharif’s late father made an investment of approximately AED12 million in the Al-Thani family’s real estate business?

Sharif and his lawyers’ flip-flops since the Panama Leaks a year ago have complicated his case. He will have to be more forthcoming and categorical to convince the prosecutors about the fount of his wealth.

His defence that he is not named in the Panama leaks and hence has nothing to do with the matter has been rejected by all the five-members of the bench probing the money trail of the London flats. Sharif’s neck was always on the line. But more so now.

Nonetheless, the Supreme Court’s verdict is truly historic in the sense that it fully demonstrates fiercely guarded independence of the judiciary. It takes a lot of courage unseating a sitting prime minister. Despite being a minority view Justice Khosa did just that.

The judgment has far reaching political implications as well. The PPP, the PTI and Jamaat e Islami (JI) have demanded the prime minister’s resignation. However, unsurprisingly the PTI chief has upped the ante by announcing to hold rallies and protests in the coming weeks.

The PML-N team of vocal ministers with Khawaja Saad Rafiq in the forefront had threatened — albeit without much conviction — to launch a movement if the apex court had out rightly disqualified Sharif. The ruling party even, while in the opposition, was unable to demonstrate even a modicum of street power. During the Musharraf era, when the Sharif family was in exile, those who are threatening today to launch a movement were nowhere to be seen.

Nevertheless, it must be conceded that the PML-N has consistently done well at the hustings. That is why Nawaz Sharif is prime minister for the third time while the party has consistently maintained its supremacy in Punjab.

As has been demonstrated in the bye-election contests in the province, the PTI despite having a tremendous capacity to pull crowds has lost most of them. Sharif however has the option of calling early elections to get a fresh mandate.

In any case he has completed four years in power. But in the scorching summer heat exacerbated by unscheduled load shedding snap general elections is not an attractive option.

The Sharif brothers would perhaps like to wait at least till the end of the year. By that time they feel that most of their power projects and development schemes will start to bear fruit.

Politically speaking perhaps it is time for transition in the family. It is obvious that the prime minister is grooming his daughter Maryam as the heir apparent while Shahbaz will continue to rule the roost in Punjab.

The younger Sharif is pivotal to the PML-N’s political strategy. He delivered Punjab both at the provincial assembly and the National Assembly level while the elder Sharif was leader of the opposition.

Perhaps this is the political future the Sharif family must be envisaging, notwithstanding the outcome of the JIT probe. In the meanwhile the opposition will continue to raise the stakes by demanding Nawaz Sharif’s scalp.

Both the PPP and the PTI have to clamour for the jewel in the crown – the Punjab. They will keep on struggling to win the coveted prize in order to rule at the federal level.

The PTI has a better chance than the PPP, which is still virtually non-existent in Punjab. But the frontrunner remains the PML-N, despite the financial scandal engulfing its leadership.

1 COMMENT

  1. Definitely 2018 general election will be “election Ruddul Fasad” and “pakistan tahreek e fasad” will be eliminated completely from the scene,insha Allah.
    PPP is likely to retain summation of present numbers to single digit.

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