While a controversy spurred by the Panama Leaks is gathering steam, Pakistan’s opposition parties appear to be divided over a demand for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to step down until a judicial commission investigates the claims his family has secret offshore holdings.
Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, the second largest opposition party, has been campaigning for the prime minister to resign because “he has lost the moral authority to stay in power”. It has also called for an inquiry by the incumbent chief justice of Pakistan (CJP) into the Panama Papers expose.
The largest opposition group, the Pakistan Peoples Party, agrees with the PTI’s demand for a CJP-led probe, but says it will only press for the prime minister’s resignation if the judicial inquiry endorses the Panama leaks.
The PTI is approaching other opposition groups to enlist their support in its campaign against the government. The party’s vice chairman, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, met Jamaat-e-Islami Ameer Sirajul Haq in Islamabad on Tuesday to muster the support of the politico-religious party.
“We have agreed to form a joint strategy after April 24 – the day when the PTI will celebrate its foundation day in Islamabad and the JI will launch an anti-corruption campaign in Lahore,” Shah said while appearing with Haq before the media after their meeting.
“It will be decided on April 24 whether the two parties mount a joint march to Raiwind, in Lahore,” Shah said, adding that he has contacted other opposition groups on the direction of PTI Chairman Imran Khan. The PTI has threatened to besiege the Sharif family house in Raiwind on April 24, if the government does not order a CJP-led inquiry by that time.
Haq agreed with the PTI’s demand for the prime minister to resign. “Morally, he should step down in the best interests of the country,” he said.
Shah also met PPP’s senior leaders Aitzaz Ahsan and Syed Khursheed Shah. Though he claimed to have received an ‘encouraging response’ from the two, the PPP is unlikely to join the chorus seeking resignation of the prime minister – at least until a CJP-led commission completes its inquiry.
PPP Senator Saleem Mandviwala, who heads the Senate Committee on Finance, said all opposition parties agreed to the demand for a judicial inquiry into revelations in the Panama Papers that three scions of the Sharif family had offshore companies. “We also believe the CJP, and not a retired judge of the Supreme Court, should lead this inquiry.”
On the other hand, Senator Ahsan claimed that Premier Nawaz, who is flying to London on Wednesday ostensibly for ‘routine medical check-up’, would, in fact, meet Asif Ali Zardari to seek his support. “Nawaz Sharif is going to London to pay a visit in the court of Asif Zardari,” he told journalists outside the Parliament House.
However, he warned that if his party bailed the prime minister out, it would suffer politically. “I will convey my views to PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto and Co-Chairman Asif Zardari,” Senator Ahsan added.
A spokesperson for Nawaz Sharif was quick to rebut the claim. “The prime minister did not express a desire to meet the PPP leadership during his upcoming London visit,” Mussadek Malik said in a statement. No such meeting is scheduled, he added.
Premier Nawaz has already ordered an inquiry by a retired judge of the Supreme Court into the allegations against his family. But the PTI and the PPP insist on a CJP-led probe. The top court is, however, unlikely to hold such an inquiry. CJP Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali said on Tuesday whether it was a job of the executive or the judiciary to investigate any matter. “We have been asked to take suo motu or form a commission. Is this the responsibility of the judiciary to constitute a commission,” he remarked while hearing a case involving the Sindh local government law.
Though CJP Jamali did not name the ‘Panama Papers’, legal experts believe he was referring to this ballooning controversy. Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) President Ali Zafar believes the judiciary will not get involved in this matter. “The SCBA has already urged the top court to refrain from investigating the matter, even if the government makes a request,” Zafar told The Express Tribune.
Meanwhile, the PTI has formed a legal committee, headed by Advocate Hamid Khan, to give its opinion on the Panama Papers expose. Khan confirmed to The Express Tribune that a committee has been formed and that it has started studying relevant documents. “The committee will submit its recommendations to the party leadership soon,” he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 13th, 2016.