IN trying to break a political impasse over a legal dispute between the PML-N and, essentially, the PTI, the Supreme Court waded into the Panama Papers issue seemingly with purpose and resolve. Yet, as several hearings so far have demonstrated, neither the PTI nor the PML-N seem willing to help the court settle some key questions regarding the assets and income of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family. Certainly, in the PML-N’s case there is an incentive to be as minimally helpful as possible — the ever-changing statements of the Sharif family when it comes to the use and ownership of the infamous London flats means that establishing the indisputable truth may expose earlier evasiveness. More remarkable is that the PTI has proved to be a damp squib. After the early debacle surrounding its initial choice for chief counsel, a new team was drafted in and the party leadership promised a much better showing. Instead, the same pattern of claims, big on political allegations and small on legally relevant evidence, has made itself evident. In this environment, it is perhaps a sensible course of action for the Supreme Court to turn towards an inquiry commission for a thorough, independent probe of the opposition allegations, the government claims and, most of all, the documentary evidence brought to light by the Panama Papers.
Yet, even before the court can make known its preference, PTI supremo Imran Khan has rejected the formation of a judicial commission and demanded that the Supreme Court directly and itself settle the matter. The PTI’s volte-face — the party has long demanded a judicial commission to probe the Panama Papers and related revelations — has been made possible by the court itself, which on Wednesday suggested that the parties involved in the hearings inform the court of their preference, or otherwise, for a commission. Before matters head towards another round of controversy and political acrimony, perhaps the court will consider giving a clear set of orders, which could entail the formation of a commission with Supreme Court-mandated terms of reference —based on the court’s understanding of the issues so far and that will help settle the matter once and for all. Seven months since the Panama Papers rocked the political landscape, it seems that an empowered and authoritative judicial inquiry alone will be able to put the matter to rest.
Published in Dawn, December 9th, 2016