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ISLAMABAD: The army on Monday pledged “transparent” participation in the joint investigation team (JIT) mandated by the Supreme Court to probe the veracity of the allegations against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his children stemming from the Panama Papers scandal.

“The forum pledged that the institution through its members in JIT shall play its due role in a legal and transparent manner fulfilling confidence reposed by the apex court of Pakistan,” the ISPR said after what appeared to be an extraordinary meeting of the military’s top brass.

The statement did not say who presided over the meeting. The sessions are usually chaired by the army chief and the same is explicitly stated in the press statements. The media, unlike in the past, was not provided any picture or video footage of the meeting and was also restrained from using file footage.

The corps commanders’ conference is usually held once a month, where issues pertaining to the army and internal and external situation are discussed and strategies for dealing with them are decided. However, depending on urgency of an issue, the army’s topmost forum meets as and when required.

Commanders discuss Panama Papers ruling, role in JIT

The 202nd meeting on Monday, “which was the second one this month”, took place as the final date for nominating officers of the Military Intelligence (MI) and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) as members of the JIT draws closer.

The forum discussed “Panama (Papers) case decision by Supreme Court with special reference to joint investigation team”, the ISPR said.

Besides the two military intelligence agencies, the JIT includes one representative each from the Federal Investigation Agency, National Accountability Bureau, Securities and Exchange Commis­sion of Pakistan and State Bank of Pakistan.

The apex court, while announcing its verdict on April 20, had ordered submission of the names of officers from these organisations within a week for approval. The nominations from the MI and ISI are to be made by directors general of the respective institutions.

Some of the leading opposition figures, however, expressed reservations over the JIT’s ability to fairly investigate the sitting prime minister and also pointed to some of the family relationships of the Sharif family that could influence the JIT proceedings.

The suspicions were then immediately dismissed by the ISPR, which had in a late-night tweet last Friday said: “Comments by few regarding head of premier intelligence agency are baseless, misleading and unwarranted. Integrity of armed forces is beyond reproach.”

The critical comments by the opposition leaders, however, sparked a debate within military circles if the army should become part of the investigation. The situation, a retired general said, caused the military leadership to convene the corps commanders’ conference and decide the matter.

However, in view of the SC directive about inclusion of the MI and ISI in the JIT, the military leadership, it is believed, decided to join the investigation team, but at the same time reassured the nation that its representatives would work transparently and as per the law.

The JIT will function under the supervision of a new bench to be constituted by the chief justice. The SC verdict requires the JIT to submit periodical reports every two weeks to the bench and complete the task in 60 days.

Formal terms of reference of the JIT are yet to be announced, but they are expected to be guided by questions raised by the bench that gave the verdict. These are: how did Gulf Steel Mills, UAE, come into being; what factors/events led to its sale; what happened to its liabilities; where did its sale proceeds end up; how did they reach Jeddah, Qatar and the UK; whether Hussain Nawaz and Hassan Nawaz had the means in the early 1990s to possess and purchase four upscale flats in London; and whether the letters from Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jaber Al-Thani of Qatar were a myth or a reality.

Published in Dawn, April 25th, 2017