ISLAMABAD: While attention was focused on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s activities in London on Friday, Ishaq Dar spearheaded his party’s efforts in Islamabad to prepare the ground for a judicial commission to investigate the Panama leaks.

The PML-N persisted in its efforts to reach out to political players and contact retired judges to head the commission.

Mushahidullah Khan, a PML-N senator, confirmed that he and Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid had met ally Mahmoud Achakzai, chief of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), for consultations on the matter. According to him, Mr Achakzai was on the same page as the government.

Television channels reported in the evening that Sarmad Jalal Osmany, a retired judge, had accepted the responsibility of heading a commission that would investigate the scandal. However, no one from the government was willing to confirm this on record.

One PML-N legislator, who was present in the meeting held at the Prime Minister Office on Thursday, said that Osmany’s name was on the list prepared by the government; the list consists of retired judges who could, and have been, approached to head the proposed commission.

In addition, Dawn has learnt that the government’s legal experts will be meeting Finance Minister Ishaq Dar on Saturday to discuss the issue. Dar is expected to meet Law Minister Zahid Hamid, Information Technology Minister Anusha Rehman, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Law Barrister Zafarullah Khan and others.

A government delegation, including Zafarullah Khan and Attorney General Aushtar Ausaf, is expected to meet the President of the Supreme Court Bar Association, Ali Zafar, to discuss the issue.

“Yes, the government team is coming to discuss the situation arising out of the Panama Paper leaks. I will also be meeting the vice chairman of PTI, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who too wants to talk about the matter,” Mr Zafar told Dawn.

The government’s decision to enlist Zafarullah Khan might have been prompted by a snub it got from the SCBA when its executive committee opposed the formation of a commission consisting of sitting or retired judges.

The committee felt that such commissions had invariably turned out to be ineffective, warning that the current one would not be different.

“This was also not a case for the exercise of suo motu jurisdiction as courts are not an investigating agency,” Zafar emphasised.

OTHER HURDLES: But opposition from the legal community is not the only element that is turning out to be a hurdle for the government.

First and foremost, the final decision in this matter will have to be taken by the prime minister.

Second, the opposition is not ready to accept a commission headed by a retired judge.   

PTI Information Secretary Naeemul Haq said that although he had great respect for Justice Osmany, the PTI would not accept anything other than a commission headed by the Chief Justice of Pakistan.

It is noteworthy that the chief justice has obliquely expressed his unwillingness to become part of the commission during a hearing. Without mentioning the issue, he observed that the responsibility to conduct investigations rests with the executive, and not the judiciary.

The PPP, too, appears to be in no mood to accept a retired judge.

“A retired judge will be influenced by the government,” commented Naveed Qamar, a senior PPP leader. He added that his party wanted a serving judge to head the commission. Other party leaders have insisted on a joint parliamentary committee to investigate the matter.

However, the Dar-led government team is keeping all options open by reaching out to retired judges in an attempt to persuade them to head the commission.

In fact, Dawn has learnt that some members of the ruling party have advised the government to simply announce the formation of a commission, headed by a retired judge.

Published in Dawn, April 16th, 2016

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