Opinion: Pakistan could be moving toward political instability

By TUBA ATHAR HASNAIN — The Joint Investigation Team that was constituted on the order of Pakistan’s top court has presented its final report in the Supreme Court. The JIT was formed to probe the money-laundering allegations against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and members of his family.

The JIT report does not shed a good light on the prime minister, and opposition parties are clamoring for his resignation. But for now, his fate – and that of the nation – remains in the hands of the court.

The issue started in April last year when the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists made public some documents of a Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca. The leaked documents, which came to be known as the “Panama Papers”, revealed that eight offshore companies had links with Sharif.

The Panama leak came as a fresh breath of air for Pakistani opposition parties, and they asked for an investigation into whether or not the PM and his family were involved in this affair. Those parties that have not yet had the opportunity to run a federal government were driven by the idea that long-standing political families in Pakistan have used the system for their own agenda, such as to enhance their own wealth and businesses.

But credit has to be given to Imran Khan, chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI, or Pakistan Movement for Justice), and other members of his party and his supporters for bringing the case to the eyes of Supreme Court of Pakistan, and that too against the sitting prime minister and his family. Khan’s tactics, especially his threat to call for a lockdown of the country’s capital city Islamabad, were often mocked because of the failure of his previous street-power politics, but it was solely due to his call that the case was taken up by the high-profile judges of the Supreme Court.

Hearing after hearing was held inside the premises of the apex court on the petitions moved by the PTI and other opposition parties seeking Sharif’s disqualification as PM. The decision was reserved by the court on February 23, to be announced on April 20. On that day, the five-member bench announced a 3-2 split decision, where two judges were of the view that Sharif should be disqualified, while the other three asked for further investigations.

The six-member JIT was hence formed. The JIT was constituted of high-ranking civilians and members of military agencies, including the military’s top investigation agency, Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).

The JIT team in its 254-page report claimed that the lifestyle of the Sharif family does not match their explained sources of income. The family’s businesses failed to account for the Sharifs’ wealth and the much-discussed London apartments.

The JIT also alleged that Nawaz Sharif had continued managing a UAE-based offshore company until 2014 while he was holding a public office. The company was not disclosed anywhere in his tax returns or in the documents submitted to the relevant authorities.

The JIT also maintained in its report that documents submitted by the family during sittings with the team were fabricated.

The report was made public after it was presented in the court, and the opposition parties have asked Sharif to resign as he has lost “moral ground” to stay on. But the allies of Sharif’s ruling party and his ministers have called the report “trash” and full of flaws. His family has also reportedly rejected the report.

The court hearing was dismissed until next Monday, when its final decision is expected to be announced. The JIT has also recommended that Pakistan’s anti-corruption body, the National Accountability Bureau, file a case against Sharif, but the ball is totally in the apex court now.

Right now, the nation is unaware of the coming future. Politicians have always blamed the country’s periodic military regimes as the main reason for Pakistan’s failed system. In its 70-year history of independence, only once has a democratically elected government completed its constitutional five-year term.

Sharif must be prepared to do the right thing for the sake of democracy if he wants stability for the country. If he is disqualified, the ruling party can choose someone else to run the government. It is Sharif’s legal right to fight any charges against him, but neither he nor his ministers and allies should forget their responsibilities toward the democratic system.

If space is given to an undemocratic force at this time, Pakistan could lose a chance to move toward another democratically elected regime, as the country’s next general elections are due next year. The respondent in this case is not the ruling party, but the ruling family. The democratic establishment and the present government can run without Sharif in power, as it is the survival of the democratic system that is important, not those of individuals.

Tuba Athar Hasnain is a Pakistan-based journalist. She has worked for The Express Tribune and for an online news portal, Meet News World, covering politics, current affairs and human rights. She has an MA in Journalism and communications.

The article also appeared in the Asia Times.

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