The Supreme Court of Pakistan’s proceedings after the Panama Papers’ disclosure, naming the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s family in the long list of people owning offshore companies, has raised the already high political temperature of Pakistan.
Two major opposition parties — Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Peoples’ Party —had been urging the prime minister to step down after the JIT findings.
The Supreme Court of Pakistan became a political battlefield for the whole last week. Dozens of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf supporters would gather outside the SC, chanting slogans in favour of their leaders and parties, sometimes trying to confront each other.
Inside, following the submission of Joint Investigation Team’s (JIT’s) 10-vloume report, the three-member bench of the apex court heard the Panama case on day-to-day basis. The JIT report declared that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family had failed in giving the money trail of its London properties as was alleged in the Panama papers last year.
The PML-N presented the whole case as a ‘conspiracy’ against them. However, they did not name the conspirer publicly till last week. But it seemed they were indirectly pointing fingers at the military establishment for this alleged plot.
On the one side, there were discussions and rumours within the ruling PML-N regarding the fate of the elected prime minister. On the other side, rival political groups sought his removal and called for new elections to benefit from the political crisis, apparently going against the ruling Sharif family.
“The prime minister and his family failed to prove their case before the court. They have been dodging the court for the past one year. Now they are attacking the JIT for making findings against them,” says Arslan Ahmed, a PTI activist, adding, “There is no conspiracy. It was not the army or Imran Khan who named Nawaz Sharif and his family in Panama Papers.”
PML-N workers are convinced that this whole case was a game to oust the Sharifs from power. Last week, a senior PML-N leader, Khawaja Saad Rafique, publicly termed Panama issue a conspiracy engineered by international powers to oust the PM from power because of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). “This conspiracy has been directed from abroad and performed by actors within the country,” he claims.
PML-N insiders tell TNS that there is a split within the party regarding how it is being dealt with by the party leadership. Some party workers believe it is the Sharif family’s internal matter and they should prove it in the court. Many others are not happy because the party top leadership did not take them into confidence regarding the issue.
“Only close party and cabinet members are being updated about the strategy while the rest keep mum,” says a senior PML-N member of the National Assembly, asking not to be named.
Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, senior minister of the government and veteran member of PML-N has distanced himself from the prime minister for reportedly not taking him into confidence regarding the Panama case strategy.
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Experts believe the PML-N will split into groups if Nawaz Sharif is disqualified. The key players are members of the kitchen cabinet and some close aides. “It was after one year that the prime minister called the parliamentary party meeting after the JIT findings were made public,” resents a PML-N MNA.
Many PML-N members believe that Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification or resignation would be a major setback to the party in the next general elections. There are serious discussions within the PML-N to bring in-house changes and complete the tenure rather than dissolving assemblies and giving further opportunity to the rival political parties.
The main opposition parties — the PTI and PPP — are at their best to get political mileage from the situation. Following the JIT findings, leaders of PPP who had earlier declared that the PTI committed a mistake by moving the SC against Sharifs, were seen present in the court on hearings.
The biggest beneficiary of this political crisis is the PTI which took up the Panama Papers case against the Sharif family and moved the court. Imran Khan, who is also facing a case in the SC for his offshore company, has warned of mass protests if Sharifs survive the court.
These two parties are united in demanding resignation from the prime minister but divided on holding early elections. PPP, which has a majority in the Upper House, will exploit the situation in the parliament. Last week, it had moved a resolution against the Security Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP). The party also intends to start a debate on the JIT report.
“The case is clear now. Everybody knows they have no money trail and that is why they are relying on conspiracy theories,” says Shafqat Mehmood, a senior leader of PTI. He believes the Sharif family itself is responsible for this situation because they had been hiding facts from the public and courts. He says the opposition parties were united in seeking resignation from the PM, particularly after the JIT report. Many see a political crisis looming, following the final verdict of the court.
“The opposition parties will continue to get mileage from the current situation because the options for Nawaz Sharif are narrowing down. It is his moral and political defeat,” says Zahid Hussain, noted political analyst. He thinks the Sharif family has had an opportunity to clear itself from the court rather than relying on alleged conspiracies and giving ample opportunity to the opposition parties. He believes the political crisis can be somehow tackled through an in-house change.