ISLAMABAD: The country’s main opposition parties were united in declaring on Thursday that the Supreme Court’s verdict in the Panama Papers case was a damning indictment of Nawaz Sharif, who, according to them, had lost the moral authority to remain in office of the prime minister.
The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) were all of the opinion that the prime minister could influence the investigation to be conducted by the joint investigation team (JIT) that would be formed by the apex court, and demanded that he leave the office till the completion of the probe.
The PPP vehemently rejected the judgement and claimed that it had provided the prime minister an “escape route”.
For its part, the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) described the ruling as “victory of its stance” in the case and said Mr Sharif was ready to face any investigation.
Imran says all five judges endorsed PTI stance; PPP rejects SC verdict
Soon after the judgement was announced, PTI chairman Imran Khan told journalists waiting in front of the court: “After the historic verdict, Nawaz Sharif has no moral grounds to sit in his office anymore.”
He claimed that all five judges of the bench had endorsed the PTI’s stance and rejected the letter presented as evidence by the Qatari prince, as well as the money trail presented by Mr Sharif.
The PTI chief said all the institutions to be represented in the proposed JIT, except the ISI and the Military Intelligence, were working under the prime minister and would not dare take action against him.
“If Nawaz Sharif does not resign, he will continue to concentrate on protecting himself instead of addressing other important problems, including electricity loadshedding and the worsening economy,” he said.
He expressed the hope that the investigation would shed light on more illegalities allegedly committed by the Sharif family, and added that the PM would have to answer questions which had not been put forward so far, including the ones about the Hudaibiya Paper Mills and the money trail of his off-shore assets.
Responding to a question about the verdict, Mr Khan said he was fully satisfied with it. “I was not expecting more than that.”
PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari addressed a press conference at which the former president said that two judges of the bench had declared Mr Sharif as disqualified, after which the prime minister had no moral authority to rule. “Will an officer in grade 19 [properly] record the sitting prime minister’s statement? Will the investigator go to the Prime Minister House [for it] or [will] Nawaz Sharif visit a police station?”
He rejected the impression that the verdict had favoured the PML-N leader and said: “Today it has been proved that Nawaz Sharif is not innocent.”
He praised the two judges who had decided against the prime minister. “I salute these judges and the decision of senior judges prevails,” he said.
The PPP co-chairman said that Imran Khan was an immature politician whose actions had only strengthened Mr Sharif. “I told Imran Khan how governments appointed judges and how judges ran governments,” he said.
He said the decision would have hit the ruling party harder if the PTI chairman had supported the PPP. “We wanted to file a joint case against Nawaz Sharif but Imran Khan disagreed,” PPP leader Aitzaz Ahsan said, adding that the Supreme Court had provided the prime minister an escape route.
He was of the view that the JIT would not be in a position to cause much harm to the prime minister. “We have seen the fate of many JITs in the past, including one formed to probe the Model Town firing case,” he said.
Expressing his disappointment over the verdict, Mr Ahsan said, “This judgment smells much like the hated ‘doctrine of necessity’... the judiciary has disappointed the lawyers’ community who struggled for its restoration.”
Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) chief Sirajul Haq, one of the petitioners in the case, also called for the prime minister’s resignation. “The prime minister’s moral [right to rule] has [been] eroded,” he said.
He said the judges, who had declared Nawaz Sharif disqualified, had actually expressed the nation’s sentiments about the case. “The people have won today and corruption [has been] defeated,” said the JI leader.
He said his party would continue its struggle against corruption. “We are triumphant in our stance,” Mr Haq said.
Pakistan Muslim League-Q president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain also demanded the PM’s resignation.
Addressing a press conference at his residence, he said Mr Sharif had not been given a clean chit by the court. “None of the five learned judges declared him ‘sadiq and ameen’... he should quit his office,” he said.
Earlier, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif said that by announcing the formation of a JIT, the apex court had endorsed Mr Sharif’s idea about setting up a commission to probe the case. “Nawaz Sharif floated the idea six months ago.”
Ahsan Iqbal said the decision of the court had once again proved that the PTI was a minority party in the country’s politics. “The PTI is a symbol of minority therefore it got a minority judgement in the case,” he said.
Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2017