THE next phase in the political fate of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif begins tomorrow.

The battle lines are now drawn, at least politically. The PML-N has vowed to fight corruption charges against its leader tooth and nail; the combined opposition, though in varying degrees, believes Mr Sharif should step down and let parliament get on with the business of electing a new prime minister.

Self-serving as the opposition demand may be, there is an undeniable logic to it. The PML-N’s claims are self-serving too, but they are less persuasive, at least from a democratic perspective. What remains to be seen is the PML-N’s legal strategy.

Thus far it has been a spectacular failure — an attempt to taint the proceedings against Mr Sharif as politically motivated without trying to address the allegations themselves.

As the JIT report has made clear, the Sharifs have continued to provide contradictory accounts of how the family apartments in London came to be in their possession. That is unacceptable, no matter what the concerns about the intentions and motivations of the JIT may be.

Surely, a decade into the latest transition to democracy, old excuses cannot stop the system from progressing towards a much-needed accountability of all. Unhappily, the JIT lived up to its reputation and delivered a report that is littered with unnecessary observations and distractions. It is almost as if the JIT were drawing up a political indictment for public consumption rather than strictly answering the questions put to it by the Supreme Court.

It must be remembered that the three justices of the Supreme Court who determined a JIT was necessary to answer certain questions about the so-called money trail of the London apartments did so with a relatively open mind. The JIT seems to have interpreted the questions as accusations and enthusiastically condemned Mr Sharif, his children and sundry allies.

The unnecessary and certainly undesirable approach of the JIT has prevented it from assembling a legally impregnable case against the Sharifs, something that will undoubtedly be exploited by the prime minister’s legal team in the Supreme Court.

Worse, the JIT’s undue aggression towards the prime minister and his family has cast a cloud over the whole proceedings, reinforcing arguments that the process is politically motivated. The Supreme Court ought to address the issue head-on and separate core facts in the report from unnecessary distractions. If Mr Sharif is to be shown the exit door, the process must be unimpeachable.

There is a further issue that the Supreme Court ought to consider. Some of the doubts about the true purpose of the proceedings against Mr Sharif can be removed if a clear road map is given for furthering the cause of accountability. It is right that Mr Sharif is being investigated first in the Panama Papers case, but accountability cannot and must not stop with him.

Published in Dawn, July 16th, 2017


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