Finally, after a long wait, the verdict of the Panama Papers case in Pakistan has been announced. Five judges gave a lease of life to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif by not disqualifying him on the petition filed by Imran Khan and company.
Sharif escaped the disqualification narrowly by the margin of 3-2. Three judges were not convinced that Sharif can be disqualified on the basis of charges levelled against him and should be probed more by a joint investigative team. Two of the judges were of the view that Sharif should be disqualified.
As expected, Nawaz Sharif was not given a clean chit, the court in fact ordering a probe regarding the trail of money by Sharif and his sons. It was never going to be a case of disqualification, it was about being cleared and announcement as innocent for Sharif to manoeuvre the power chessboard, which Sharif somehow was not able to prove. The Qatari Prince’s letter, submitted as proof of his money trail, was not accepted by the Supreme Court.
A joint investigation team to probe the issue is a big setback for Sharif. After all, it challenges his moral authority to rule the country. As a head of government, how can Sharif be investigated with impartiality by the institutions that are under his control and influence, is the big question.
Traditionally, judicial commissions and inquiries do not have a good track record of coming to any conclusion in Pakistan. So by going with this track record and the history of Joint Investigation Teams (JITs) in Pakistan, Sharif may have narrowly escaped the Panamagate disqualification, but has lost his moral and political credibility.
His rival Mr Khan too lost his last chance of throwing Sharif from power through a court verdict (a de facto judicial coup). But the order from the Supreme Court of Pakistan to form a JIT has strengthened Mr Khan’s stance in the view of the general public and given him a moral victory which in the long run will give him benefits in the political battlefield.
Maryam Nawaz clearly appears to be the victor, because the Court, in a detailed judgment, has not asked her to present herself before any inquiry commission, thus giving her a clean chit. This means Maryam will ultimately be the new face of the ruling party in the next General Elections. So there is a little share of the cake for everyone in the decision. Imran Khan has been given a face saving, Maryam Nawaz a clean chit and Nawaz Sharif has been given a new lifeline.
As always, the Judiciary passed a verdict that injured an elected Prime Minister, a weaker PM being what the actual “Godfathers” of the ruling elite always prefer to deal with. Now weakened by the decision and waiting to appear in front of a JIT, Nawaz Sharif will be very easy to handle and to dictate for the security establishment. The actual goal behind Panamagate was to weaken Sharif and this has been achieved. The Court included the famous quote from The Godfather, “Behind every fortune, there is a crime”. This sets the tone for the possible forthcoming political scenario in the country.
Sharif’s character assassination is being done to such an extent that he is very weak on moral grounds, faced with a JIT that will investigate him and his sons, the added insult to the injury being the inclusion of the members of ISI and MI in the JIT. The inclusion of the members of Inter-Service Intelligence and Military Intelligence agencies to probe a civilian says it all as to who was behind the scene dictating the judges to pass such a judgment. Now the power is actually being returned to the defence establishment. It is the men in khakis who will call the shots again and Sharif has to move on as per their instruction. But is Sharif willing to surrender and act as a ceremonial Prime Minister while GHQ is calling the shots?
Looking into Sharif’s political journey, one can easily predict that he is not going to surrender; he will live to fight another day. He did the same when a military coup was staged against him and Musharraf threw him out of power putting him behind bars. Sharif at that time made a compromise by signing a deal with Musharraf that he would not participate in politics for the next 10 years, and then he was exiled. But he manoeuvred the political events in Pakistan from Saudi Arabia through his close aides.
The famous lawyer movement for the restoration of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was sponsored and manoeuvred by Sharif. It is Sharif who created a narrative against the dominance of military establishment in shaping foreign policy and creating a self-hyped defence narrative. So by going against the establishment Sharif knew he would be cut to size at some time, that is why he prepared his daughter to carry on the legacy.
On the other hand, excluding Sharif from politics is almost an impossible task for the military establishment; they tried to exclude Zulfikar Bhutto and Benzair Bhutto, but they became more and popular and their legacy still continues. Not repeating the previous mistake of ousting an elected Prime Minister through a coup or agitation, this time Sharif was injured by using the judiciary with the same old slogan of recovering billions of rupees from politicians. Using the judiciary to get a desired result is the same tactical move which Sharif used against the defence establishment in 2007. In other words, Sharif is getting a taste of his own medicine. The Judiciary would never have taken such a weak case had there been no behind the scene instructions from the establishment.
Announcing a verdict with a quote from the Godfather novel says it all. Asma Jahangir, the senior lawyer and human rights activist, nailed it by saying that by giving such a quote the Court has showed its bias and the next judgment should now start with a quote from Charlie Wilson‘s novel. She is absolutely right because by the Supreme Court’s logic, every human who has earned a big fortune in the world is actually a criminal and fortunes can only be made by committing a crime. This means that from Steve Jobs to Bill Gates and from Henry Ford to Mark Zuckerberg, all the big names are criminals. This in a way is an effort to build a narrative in Pakistan that every single citizen, excluding the members of judiciary and Generals of the Armed Forces, who makes a big fortune is actually a criminal and should be hated by the general public for his art of earning a big fortune. One wonders that by going with the same logic, can the Supreme Court take up the cases of Musharraf or the Defence Housing Authority case making big fortunes out of nowhere, just to prove the Court’s impartiality.
As of now, both the PML-N and PTI are celebrating the piece of cake they were given by invisible forces and are trying to convince their voters that they have actually won. But deep inside both Mr Khan and Mr Sharif know that they have both actually lost and the establishment has reclaimed the lost authority and grip on the power chessboard. Mr Khan needs soul searching and to move on in politics without the support of the defence establishment, otherwise he will be totally irrelevant in future politics. For Sharif, he has to come up with a very good move for stalemate against the establishment. He can do it by improving his governance and by overcoming the electricity crisis in the country.
Sharif’s safe bet is to put his daughter Maryam Nawaz in the field right now so she can do some damage control. Sharif has been injured through judiciary by the security establishment, but he is surviving and if anyone among the current political leadership can win the battle against the real “Godfathers” of Pakistan, only Mr Sharif can.
Corruption allegations on politicians and democratically elected Prime Ministers are the most useful tool and a populist way of ousting or weakening the elected Prime Ministers in Pakistan. Corruption is no doubt a cancer for society, but so is the ousting or weakening of democratic leaders and regimes to assert power. The powerful military establishment has never been held accountable for corruption. Musharraf’s case and the retired General Kayani’s brother case are two current examples and there are hundreds of other cases.
The real “Godfathers” always hide behind the shields of “patriotism” and “the defenders” and asking questions on their corruption is considered treason. So Sharif’s fight on the power chessboard is with the “Godfathers” not with the pawns like Mr Khan. Will Sharif meet the same fate as Zulfikar Bhutto or will he be able to turn the table around and defeat the invisible forces? Only time will tell. For now, Sharif is injured but has another day to live and fight the “Godfathers”.