Pakistan’s Chief Justice advises Imran Khan to ‘end atmosphere of mistrust’, army pledges transparency in Sharif family probe

IRSHAD SALIM (MAMOSA Report) — Pakistan’s Supreme Court has sought three names from each department regarding formation of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to probe Panamagate case in the light of its verdict on Thursday.

The court ruled last week by majority vote that there is insufficient evidence to remove Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif over corruption allegations while handing out neither a clean chit nor a disqualification.

The apex court instead ordered the formation of a joint investigation team to probe into the Panamagate case for evidences to establish “white-collar crimes” if any done by the Sharifs beyond reasonable doubt and under due process of existing laws and the constitution.

Disqualifying Sharif would leave his party in power, but it could cause intense turmoil at a time when Pakistan is experiencing modest growth and improved security after years of violence, said several political observers — all of them pointed out at the polarization, with both sides of the opinion calling the verdict their’s “victory”.

Toronto-based Syed Rashid Husain, a senior media professional who regularly contributes to the Globe and Mail, Dawn, BBC and Saudi Gazette, said,” Had Pakistan been a first world country, the PM would have resigned…Pakistan is neither Ireland, nor Mian sahib is David Cameron.”

Majority of overseas Pakistanis I spoke with were happy though that the process is moving regardless of the outcome. One called it “democracy and accountability maturing,” in a country which “has seen botched orchestra of civilian and military rules for many years for several reasons — corruption and abuse of power to name two,” said Baseer Naveed, a former Pakistani media professional now working for several years at the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong.

“Problem is there’s trust deficit, skepticism and cynicism across the divide for several years now,” Naveed added.

Well aware of the ground realities, Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar on Monday urged PTI Chairman Imran Khan — the main petitioner in the case — to play his role in ending an atmosphere of mistrust, reported Express Tribune..

“Being a leader of the nation, you carry a major responsibility. You are not an individual. Your one call may cause chaos or stability in the country,” Justice Nisar said during hearing of a case regarding encroachment of land in Bani Gala, a posh suburb in capital Islamabad.

The CJP had taken suo motu notice after the PTI chief wrote a letter to the former, seeking his intervention in the matter.

Sources told ET that a letter has been sent by the apex court to the FIA, NAB, the State Bank, SECP, the ISI and the MI for recommending three names for the constitution of the JIT to probe Panamagate allegations against Sharif family. Sharifs deny any wrongdoings.

The SC judgment had asked heads of these departments to send in their respective nominees within seven days so that they can be placed before the bench for nomination and approval. The deadline is going to end on Thursday.

It is also learnt that all these departments have started consultations to shortlist their respective nominees.

Meanwhile, Pakistan army has pledged that the corruption probe of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s family will be carried out in a “legal and transparent manner.”

The army statement, issued by ISPR on Monday, came after the Supreme Court Thursday ordered a fast-track probe of the case by civil investigative agencies and the military intelligence agencies that many observers think could jeopardize Sharif’s political future.

The court case is based on several petitions clubbed together relating to documents leaked in 2016 from a Panama-based law firm, which disclosed the Sharif family’s offshore wealth.

The joint investigation team (JIT) has 60 days to complete its probe once formed.

Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, one of the judges with a dissenting opinion in the 2:3 split verdict of the case, had said in the detailed judgement that the apex court had to entertain the case “in the backdrop of an unfortunate refusal/failure on the part of all the relevant institutions in the country, like the NAB, the FIA, the SBP, the Federal Board of Revenue, the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan, and the National Assembly speaker to inquire into or investigate the matter.”

It has been commented that the ISI and the MI have been included in the JIT to allay these concerns, reported Dawn.

The military on Monday said it would live up to the confidence reposed by the apex court in the institution by making the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence (MI) part of the team being set up by the apex court to probe offshore properties owned by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s family.

A five-member bench of the top court announced a majority verdict in the Panama Papers case on April 20, with two judges ruling the prime minister should be disqualified for not being truthful and trustworthy whereas the three others called for further investigation.

The six-member Joint Investigation Team (JIT) will be led by a top officer of the Federal Investigation Agency, the court has ruled.

An army corps commanders’ conference held in Rawalpindi near capital Islamabad discussed “the apex court’s Panamagate verdict with special reference to the JIT,’ the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said in a statement issued after the meeting.

“The forum pledged that the institution, through its members in the JIT, shall play its due role in a legal and transparent manner, fulfilling [the] confidence reposed [in the military] by the apex court,” the ISPR said.

Opposition parties have launched a public campaign following the verdict to press their demand for Sharif’s resignation, at least for the duration of the JIT which is to submit a report to the Supreme Court within two months after start of the probe. The court has ruled that the PM and his two sons will appear before the JIT when summoned.

Top leader of main opposition Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), former president Asif Ali Zardari, addressing a public meeting in the northwestern province at Mardan on Monday, renewed call for Sharif to step down.

Sharif’s arch rival, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Imran Khan, who was the main petitioner in the case, is scheduled to address a public meeting in Islamabad on April 28 to gear up his party’s public mobilization to increase pressure on the prime minister to quit.

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