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Panama Papers verdict

Updated Apr 21, 2017 09:29am


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It had all the makings of a landmark judicial case: a serving prime minister and his family accused of corruption; the petitioners representing an array of political opposition; the hearings initiated by a chief justice of Pakistan, who intervened to prevent a potentially catastrophic political confrontation in Islamabad; and an evidentiary trail rooted in the explosive Panama Papers, which caused ripples across the globe.

In the end, and in a split decision, the court has found that it does not have enough evidence to give the opposition what it wants, but it does have enough doubts to demand a joint investigation team probe Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family.

The verdict was immediately hailed by the government as a victory; and, perhaps half-heartedly, used by the PTI to demand yet again that the prime minister temporarily step aside. Both reactions were predictable.

In the hours after a lengthy judgement is delivered, a full examination of its contents is unlikely; the days ahead will yield more details and informed opinion, supportive and critical of the judgement. Yet, there is an anomaly that can be immediately identified and that perhaps the court has not thought through the implications of.

The JIT itself is effectively a dead end. The record of JITs in other politically charged matters make it clear that no great surprises ought to be expected. But the inclusion of military-run intelligence agencies in a probe against a serving prime minister in matters of finance and the law is remarkable — and a precedent that should not be established.

It is not a question of who the prime minister is or civilians being above the law. There is absolutely no doubt that as prime minister, Mr Sharif must be held to a greater level of scrutiny than the average citizen. What is concerning about the composition of the JIT, especially with the inclusion of a Military Intelligence representative, is the signal it sends about the lack of institutional trust.

Civilian matters should be probed, adjudicated and resolved in the civilian domain. And if the court has little faith in civilian institutions, as it indicated in its verdict, it could have put its trust in a judicial commission.

At the heart of the Panama Papers petitions lay a simple idea — that long-standing political families in the country use the system to enhance their personal wealth. Credit for pushing that simple idea — both intuitive and with decades of circumstantial evidence to support it — all the way to the Supreme Court and against a serving prime minister must go to Imran Khan and his PTI.

Mr Khan’s tactics, especially a threatened lockdown of Islamabad, were often unwarranted and occasionally indefensible, but corruption is an undeniable facet of political life in Pakistan and must be seriously addressed.

Mr Sharif may still have his job and his family has not been convicted of any wrongdoing as yet, but it is troubling that the family appears to regard financial probity as a matter of politics — that somehow continuing political support and the backing of the electorate in the last general election means that it has nothing to answer for. At best, Mr Sharif will emerge from this episode with a tainted legacy.

If change — institution-strengthening, transparency-building, probity-enhancing change — is to come, all sides must consider their role in the present state of affairs.

The Supreme Court was unable to quell the political shenanigans the hearings attracted and mishandled public expectations with unnecessary statements from the bench. The PML-N has behaved like corruption is a figment of the public and the opposition’s imagination instead of a governance-sapping national malaise, which it is.

The opposition has peddled rumour and allegation as fact and, in the case of the PTI, is yet to develop a political vision that goes beyond the prime minister’s ouster. Meanwhile, institutions have continued to wither and parliament is in the doldrums, a neglected body from where great democratic ideas and institutional changes ought to spring.

Perhaps in the glare of the verdict, the country’s institutions and leadership will find a way to address the public’s very real and urgent demand for a cleaner political process.

Mr Sharif is a legitimately elected prime minister; what he and his family have failed to prove so far is that their wealth has been legitimately acquired.

Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2017


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Comments (34) Closed

aga Khan Apr 21, 2017 05:20am

So what? Have clout, will exploit.

ABbas Khan Apr 21, 2017 06:03am

Amazing editorial! Words selection remarkable. NS is a democratically elected premiere of Pakistan and is accountable only to justice courts of country not to Dharnacracy or mobocracy. Although PML-N particularly provincial government working wonders in Punjab excluding Saraiki Southern Western Punjab which still same Rohi, Thal and Daman but Court judgment totally is against ruling pundits but their emotional drummers swinging in air without caring content and context of the much awaited verdict. If prime minister declared disqualified at any stage in further inquiries then there will be desilting campaign at every street in Pakistan against all who now clapping and dancing in euphoria and dionsiac frenzy. Hope soon darkness will wane and a faint auroral glow will appear in East People of Pakistan demand justice at grassroots levels because consolidated syndicates consisting upon heavyweight champions of cyberspying and electronic espionage stagmatizing our educational institutions

Deepak Talwar Apr 21, 2017 06:29am

Well said.If institutions are strong, everything falls in line.

Jamil KaludI Apr 21, 2017 07:02am

Very logical, persuasive, and earnest editorial by Dawn. I hope all quarters pay attention to this well meaning articulation. As I read more about the verdict, I am wondering if Pakistan has such a recourse as an "independent Counsel", as we in the U.S. do, and if PTI has given a thought to follow up with such a request to the esteemed court, as JIT cannot be completely impartial, at minimum in appearance if not in function.

Hajira aslam Apr 21, 2017 08:58am

Great analysis

Nagi Apr 21, 2017 09:32am

Good editorial Dawn.

Sameer Apr 21, 2017 10:16am

By far the most balanced article i read today.

Khaled Apr 21, 2017 10:34am

After going through the lengthy proceedings, and the the response that the court got from the civil institutions, the court is very right in not trusting the civilian institutions.

Asad hasan Apr 21, 2017 11:02am

An excellent balanced editorial! I hope the leaders read and learn from it. In summary, the people (parliament) may enact laws, and courts interpret and the executive implement them, but it is the political leaders, MPAs/MNAs/ (so called elected representatives ) who must follow these laws in letter and spirit by personal example - whether it is not breaking the traffic signal light, or not allowing hordes of crowds waiting in the sun on roads - whilst their grand motorcade/s passes, or usurping major road arteries for their personal use or indeed paying their taxes. That is the crux and difference between enlightened and well governed countries, and us poor (so called developing) populace.

sYED aHMED Apr 21, 2017 12:04pm

"what he and his family have failed to prove so far is that their wealth has been legitimately acquired." - And that is the crux of the issue: if their is a lack of transparency in their acquisition of the enormous wealth that they flaunt, how can their election and governance be transparent - ergo, how can he be accepted as a "legitimately elected prime minister"?

S.shankar Apr 21, 2017 12:22pm

Beautiful write up.... Excellent analysis....

Farrukh Arshad Apr 21, 2017 12:37pm

Fully agreed with every word, but I never wanted to say this but we are a hopeless case, we have missed several opportunities to improve ourselves towards betterment.

MUnib Apr 21, 2017 01:01pm

I am reading DAWN ever since i was in primary and its the only paper that has kept its standard.

Once again a good editorial.

M. Emad Apr 21, 2017 01:46pm

Pakistan needs political stability.

Dr. Khan Apr 21, 2017 01:57pm

"PTI, is yet to develop a political vision that goes beyond the prime minister’s ouster"

This is something PTI should be worried about........ They waisted 4 years in KPK with nothing significant in the eyes of the KPK people and in particular in the rest of Pakistanis. The next election is not too far infact in less than a year. They must focus on how to move on and entice people towards its manifesto and trust them than crying foul about sour milk

Nasir London Apr 21, 2017 02:18pm

Damn it, Mr Sharif does not care if he emerges from this episode with a tainted legacy. Certainly not. Panama leaks exposed many a more arround the world and they resigned or left the scene on a matter of shame but Nawaz stayed put - a shameless act.

Mehboob ali lalani Apr 21, 2017 03:28pm

I am curious if two judges out of five declared the PM disqualified for the position in western countries, what would be the reaction of the PM. Would he stick to the position or step down? What should be true spirit of democracy?

JA-Australia Apr 21, 2017 03:30pm

Contrary to the editorial, Imran Khan's vision for Pakistan is crystal clear. Allow me to reiterate:

ALL -- repeat ALL -- of Pakistan's problems can be traced to misgovernance and lack of accountability. Therefore, the first step to solve ANY problem is to stop corruption and institute accountability for politicians.

BAXAR Apr 21, 2017 04:06pm

@M. Emad "Pakistan needs political stability." That's why we need to put the exchequer away from dishonest people, whatever the cost.

Asad hasan Apr 21, 2017 04:20pm

@Mehboob ali lalani Absolutely right! Even if ONE judge had given these kind of observations, any PM worth his salt would step down, VOLUNTARILY - and for the sake of democratic traditions, which unfortunately we don't have!

Shiraz Apr 21, 2017 05:03pm

@Nagi - It's seems N leadership didn't read the full judgement, for them, only JIT order is enough to still remain in power. Model town, Dawn Leak JIT, have already been managed, this will be also!

our PREDICAMENT Apr 21, 2017 05:25pm

The nation should be thankful to Imran Khan. We have come this far because of him, no one in this country has worked so very hard for Pakistan as he has, honestly with a goal. Others have worked hard, but only for their own interests. With all his faults, he has been able to mobilize the nations conscience towards corruption at the top. A nation deserves the leaders it gets, if we the people are corrupt ( as we are) do not expect the leaders to be honest. This is in essence what Mr.N.S. and the ruling elite stand for. If I.K. was not there Pakistan would have been taken for a ride for another 10 years. With conscientiousness raising Pakistan has a better future. Pakistani's need to ask more questions from their leaders.

Mozaffar Ahmad Apr 21, 2017 06:11pm

Good analytical editorial. However, the history of corruption in Pakistan is as old as her age. It has been nurturing tremendously ever since her inception. And now CORRUPTION has only become an attractive political rhetoric. Unsurprisingly, the most well known corrupt politicians are blaming the others of looting as if they are the most honest. Sorry to say, the latest SC split verdict has created a dilemma which may lead to serious consequences for the stability of this country, put aside the uprooting of corruption.

KaZIM REZA Apr 21, 2017 06:35pm

In a simple word to run Pakistan under a corruption free vibrant democracy with the assurance of continuation of civilian rule is a million dollar question . In this context one can understand the sensitivity of the present case. If there is any inability of the present supreme court, if any, one can understand the very deep problems of the state of Pakistan. The highest court of any countries generally does not see only a case matter when political run matters placed before them. The dawn like an epic describes the whole.But it depends on individuals and there understanding and also judgement how they grasp it.

Sam Apr 21, 2017 07:08pm

What we r discussing is his past ill gotten wealth. But, what about the new wealth that is created from the corrupt collision with CHINA on CPEC. All the new project undertakings given with an assured returns of 20%. God save

BAXAR Apr 21, 2017 07:26pm

"The record of JITs in other politically charged matters make it clear that no great surprises ought to be expected. " This JIT is not formed by the govt in place, it is supposed to report and examined by the court. It's finding are not automatically accepted by the court, they have already observed that some institutions do not work properly. Their task apparently, is to find evidence of legality of the money transferred. If they can't provide any evidence, the wealth may be considered as illegally transferred by default. The presence of ISI and MI seems to be, to guarantee that the evidence is not fabricated.

Asad Apr 21, 2017 08:03pm

"he and his family have failed to prove so far is that their wealth has been legitimately acquired", a very damning conclusion which zero outs all the electoral legitimacy. A man's real test is in how he handles money matters and power, I think NS has failed both. He wants to accumulate and retain both money and power (through his daughter as successor to throne). He has no integrity and definitely no democratic credentials. Simply an autocrat/plutocrat.

Nizamuddin Ahmad Aali Apr 21, 2017 08:14pm

Well written. Democratically elected is a reality but he is a convicted man by 40 % of the SC.

S. Tanwir Hasan Apr 21, 2017 09:47pm

Very well written editorial with pertinent and true analysis expected from a level of newspaper Dawn, the only reliable and trustworthy newspaper in Pakistan.

hore choopo Apr 22, 2017 12:26am

excellent editorial.candid and blunt comments.

akhtar hussain asim Apr 22, 2017 12:27am

akhtar hussain asim, our politician are not matured enough to respond to the verdict in a sensible way. before the advent of judgment all of them showing utmost confidence on the sagacity, wisdom and prudence. And now when the judgment has come, they should stand by their commitment of honouring the verdict. Now they hve started creating chaos and mayhem for nothing. respect the verdict of apex court in letter and spirit and refrain from creating political instability and urge not the prime minister to step down as the apex court allowed him to work and did not ask him to give up the office. They should wait for final conclusion of the case.

Ibrahim Apr 22, 2017 05:06pm

How many of the personalities from all over the world found involved Panama papers leaks for financial improprietes? Have they resigned from the posts they were holding? If none, then why Prime minister should be made to step down? Paper leaks will come and go! Why bother?

Ahmad Apr 22, 2017 10:06pm

@ABbas Khan man I love the way you have explained it, your word selection is impeccable.

khanm Apr 23, 2017 06:11pm

The irony the entire saga of this case was a dead end. All we needed to do was to see the credibility of our institution. quote one from its entire history.