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PM’s ordeal will continue

Published Apr 21, 2017 01:20am


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THE prime minister may have escaped the ultimate humiliation of being removed from office, but his ordeal continues. The split judgment of the five-member bench has certainly not cleared him or his family of allegations of wrongdoing. The first family has to face further investigation into the money trail to offshore companies and the properties they own in London.

Although he has escaped disqualification (narrowly), the third-time prime minister has emerged politically much weaker after this historic judgment. The declaration of victory by his supporters is certainly premature. Nawaz Sharif’s trials and tribulations are far from over. His political fate will be decided by a joint investigation team (JIT) to be set up by the Supreme Court. The committee is mandated to submit its findings within 60 days. We are seeing part two of the Panamagate saga that is keeping the country riveted.

It is quite a damning ruling for the prime minister with two of the five judges calling for his disqualification for not being honest. The other three may not have agreed to this extreme action, but there is consensus that the Sharif family has failed to provide substantive evidence regarding the source of the money used to buy expensive properties in London. Hence, further investigation is needed.

How can the spy agencies conduct an investigation into a financial scandal?

Interestingly, the two dissenting judges are the more senior ones and they are in line for elevation to the post of chief justice. Although a divided judgment was very much expected, it has also, to the disappointment of the opposition parties, left the matter inconclusive adding to the political uncertainty. In fact, the issue of Sharif’s disqualification has been postponed until the JIT submits its report.

Curiously, the 540-page judgment begins with a quote from Maria Puzo’s epic novel The Godfather — “Behind every great fortune there is a crime.” The quote is originally attributed to 19th-century French writer Honoré de Balzac. The use of this quote itself is revealing particularly in the context of the scandal. The bench has also raised questions regarding the money trail related to the Sharif family’s Gulf steel mill and ordered the JIT to investigate the letter from a Qatari royal, which was submitted by Sharif’s lawyer as evidence in the case.

It will be for the first time in the country’s history that a sitting prime minister will appear before an investigation team probing allegations of financial wrongdoing. This raises the pertinent question of whether he should stay in his high office during the investigation. There is also a moral question involved. Surely there is no precedent in the country of a political leader stepping down voluntarily. But his position is certainly compromised as he faces an inquiry into a financial scandal with his moral authority diminished.

Significantly, the JIT includes representatives of the Military Intelligence and ISI bringing the military into a probe against a sitting prime minister. The involvement of the intelligence agencies in a purely financial inquiry may have serious political ramifications. One wonders about the rationale behind it. How can the spy agencies conduct an investigation into a financial scandal? The decision makes the generals a party in a political game that may have serious consequences for civil-military relations.

It is apparent that Sharif is determined to take the fight to the end and to not succumb to the opposition’s pressure to step down. His supporters appear quite confident they will manage to drag on the JIT inquiry long enough to get close to the elections next year. Given the experience of past JITs, one cannot totally rule out this possibility. But it is not going to help him politically. Contesting polls under the shadow of Panamagate does not augur well for a leader seeking a record fourth term.

A major challenge for a morally and politically weak prime minister is to deal with an extremely aggressive opposition. Almost all the major opposition parties seem to be united on the demand for his resignation. Their bravado notwithstanding, there is deep realisation among PML-N supporters about the seriousness of the situation.

Indeed, the Panamagate scandal and the court ruling have changed the political dynamics of the country. It has brought into question the supposedly unassailable position of the PML-N in Punjab that is the main political battleground. Though inconclusive the ruling has provided a strong leverage to Sharif’s arch-rival, the PTI, to step up the pressure on him.

It is not surprising that the PTI has declared the ruling a moral and political victory for it. The PPP’s response to the verdict is ambivalent. Asif Ali Zardari declared that the verdict has given a lifeline to the prime minister. Although he too has called for Sharif’s resignation, it is not clear whether the party will join hands with the PTI in any anti-government move.

Badly bruised, Nawaz Sharif may be considering some other options to keep the power within the family. It is quite possible that Nawaz Sharif will not seek a fourth term, and instead, bring forward his daughter Maryam Nawaz as the next leader. One positive point in the ruling for the PML-N is that she has come out unscathed. That she would not was one of the prime minister’s major concerns.

The first daughter has long been promoted as the heir apparent. She had virtually been running the party and was also involved in important government decisions in the absence of her father last year. The party has already announced she will contest the next elections. For Sharif supporters, it is the only way to keep power within the family. But that may also intensify family rivalry. It will not be an easy transition with a powerful uncle in the line of succession too.

The sword of Damocles continues to hang over the head of the beleaguered prime minister. A vicious battle for survival lies ahead for him.

The writer is an author and journalist.

Twitter: @hidhussain

Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2017


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (24) Closed

Blindfollowig Apr 21, 2017 01:39am

Good analysis! You pre court ruling analysis was also spot on!

Morehamhead Apr 21, 2017 01:40am

Basically the worst of all outcomes.

Harry Apr 21, 2017 01:56am

Zahid Sahib Very good analysis of the court verdict. It will not be smooth sailing for Nawaz Sharif in JIT. The presence of military personnel in the investigation team will severely compromise the moral authority of PM. But who cares about the moral authority in our land of pure. The issue of load shedding will also hurt the Sharifs as well However I still think that PM & his talented sons will go scot free in the end although their credibility will be in tatters Full credit to Imran Khan who breathed new life in what looked like dead horse of Panama papers. He forced the court to take up the case which they described earlier as 'frivolous' Interesting times fo the nation & Sharif enterprise

Tabi Apr 21, 2017 02:26am

Well written sir

Malik W Apr 21, 2017 03:03am

But There is a precedent, Remember when Nawaz Sharif Stepped down in the early 90s after Nasim Hasan Shah Reinstated him.

Siva d Apr 21, 2017 06:27am

Nicely written!

Dr tariq Apr 21, 2017 07:06am

Dear sir a very good analysis

Saeed Asad Apr 21, 2017 09:24am

As always, balanced analysis. excellent sir.

salman Apr 21, 2017 09:38am

Very rational analysis. One point, as court has specified 60 days for theJIT, it will be difficult for respondents to drag it out. The court will also be monitoring proceedings regularly.

Khaled Apr 21, 2017 10:20am

A good analysis , the significant inclusion of representatives of the Military Intelligence and ISI will give more credibility to the JIT, as it is expected that they would be more impartial.

amjad Apr 21, 2017 10:59am

Just excellent.

Jamil Apr 21, 2017 11:07am

The PM must resign.It will add to his stature.

Falak Sher Apr 21, 2017 12:02pm

Nothing is going to happen in next two months.

Shakil Apr 21, 2017 12:57pm

Corruption is all-pervasive with permanent bureaucracy at the top. But nobody ever mentions their name because they are not elected by the common man. The common man is being practically robbed blind by the country's bureaucracy, right from the patwari to the secretariat level. Politicians are corrupt too but none of them has ever been punished in Pakistan's history. It seems that the only aim is to keep Damocles sword hanging over them all the time to manipulate them so that they will not do anything good for the common man.

ParVez Apr 21, 2017 01:16pm

Balanced view .....

Muhammad zahid Apr 21, 2017 02:04pm

Our PM is disqualified by two judges for corruption, and three judges are on the view that PM has not valid evidences to be given him clean chit in the case against him for financial corruption. This is astonishing, believe me many loyal of the country are embarrassed for being a part of the nation who is leaded by a PM besieged in probing for corruption. Step down please, how you will face foreigner counterparts in these situation?

KR Apr 21, 2017 02:56pm

NS supporters will always vote for him even if he has no moral grounds to stand on and with a bit of rigging, easily done while sitting in power, he will be elected again.

The work done by PTI, JI and Sheikh Sb is commendable but it is unlike that it will make a difference in elections against such a formidable foe.

Aamir Apr 21, 2017 03:44pm

rbe evidence of corruption is overwhelming, the time has come for the people of pakistan to rid themselves

lafanga Apr 21, 2017 03:54pm

Very good analysis. Only in 3rd world sub-continent that democracy is practised by inheritance. What qualifications does Maryam Nawaz or Bilawal Bhutto have to lead a country like Pakistan? None, Zero, Nada, Nothing. For that matter what qualifications does Zardari and Nawaz Sharif have but that is a different discussion.

Don'T HONK, THE NATION SLEEPS Apr 21, 2017 04:07pm

The Qatari letter? Did the PM, his family or his lawyers really think the people to be that stupid to accept it without any qualms? There is a limit to presumptions.

Jamil Soomro, NEW YORK CITY Apr 21, 2017 04:46pm

Mr.Zahid Hussain's previous prediction that PM Nawaz Sharif would get badly shaken up and bruised politically after the Supreme Court's verdict has in fact turned out to be true.

s.khan Apr 21, 2017 07:04pm

Pakistan doesn't have expertise in in probing corruption. Forensic accountants probably don't exist in Pakistan. Hire an expert from U.K. to assist JIT.

Amir Dewani-U.S.A. Apr 21, 2017 08:28pm

As I observe, nobody- not even the intellectual commentators - have been able to raise these questions: (i) What about the legality/validity of the acts/deeds/decisions emanating from the office of the sitting P.M. in the intervening period till the final judgement comes? (ii) After the strict strictures of two honorable senior most judges about 'Sadiq and Amin',is he now to be considered 100% honest/trustworthy? (iii In view of the adverse comments of the entire penal of five honorable judges, was it not possible to ask him to immediately step down from the office in all fairness to ensure 'transparency'? (iv) Who audits the auditors in this country? (V) What is now left about the sanctity/spirit/ moral-value of the 'oath of office'as prescribed in the constitution. (vi) Is it not like the fake 'promise printed' on the trillion dollar bill of the Zimbabvian government?

Nasir London Apr 21, 2017 09:03pm

@Shakil: punishment is designed and reserved for the common man only others are immune from such punishment.