Pakistan Supreme Court’s landmark ruling on Thursday in the case against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family members, following the Panama Papers leak, saved the country from political anarchy and is likely to change the face of politics in Pakistan. Sharif, his two sons and a daughter are accused of acquiring wealth illegitimately, and using offshore companies to buy property in London.
The court ruling that said there is insufficient evidence of corruption to remove Sharif from the role of prime minister seems to have satisfied almost all the parties. The high-profile case, which pitted a prime minister and his family members as defendants against all the major political parties in the country as petitioners, was voluntarily taken up by the Chief Justice of Pakistan to defuse a volatile political situation last year. At the time, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf leader Imran Khan had threatened to close down Islamabad if action was not taken against Sharif.
The Panama case was always a political issue fuelled by the opposition spearheaded by Imran Khan, and revved up by the fledgling electronic media.
The court has ordered the establishment of a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to investigate the charges against Sharif and his family, with this team expected to present a report within 60 days. The probe team will include officials from the National Accountability Bureau, the Federal Investigation Agency, the State Bank of Pakistan, the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence.
The capabilities of the investigating team are cause for concern and the two-month deadline is even more worrying. In the past, joint investigation teams have hardly produced any results as most government officials are influenced by political figures from the ruling party. But what is heartening is that for the first time the court has included an official from the Military Intelligence in the probe team. It shows that the court means business. This move can help neutralise any political influence on civilian agencies and will ensure reliable results from the probe team.
To ensure that democracy flourishes in Pakistan and to put an end to corruption, the JIT must be allowed to complete its task independently and at the same time Sharif and his family members should also present proof about the legitimacy of their assets. Opposition parties should also patiently let the JIT complete its probe and avoid taking to the streets in protest.