The Supreme Court on Thursday, October 20, issued a notice to the Prime Minister and other parties in respect of petitions that sought his disqualification from office by virtue of his association with the Panama Papers affair. The bench has also refused to pass an order seeking to restrain the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) from holding a rally in Islamabad on November 2. Notably, the Chief Justice made the observation that in the event of the executive failing to protect the fundamental rights of individuals and by extension the citizenry at large, then it is for the apex court to intervene and protect those rights. The bench then issued notices to all the respondents and the four petitioners and adjourned for two weeks.
With this ruling the judiciary has sent a clear signal to the executive, namely that it is independent and will make decisions that are not necessarily comfortable for the government of the day. There are reports that the PM has been discussing with his legal aides a possible strategy in the event of such a ruling, about which there is now some urgency. For the PTI and its leader, Imran Khan, there is now a legal imprimatur for its planned actions in Islamabad and the stage is set for confrontation.
The Panama Papers are an established fact, not some transient mirage that fades as quickly as it appears. The apex judiciary is signalling that there are questions to be asked and answered of and by the PM, and that accountability in all things in public and political life reaches to the top. If, as the PM has maintained throughout, he and his family have nothing to hide then let them not hide it. Thus far he has successfully stonewalled, but this latest ruling may be the spur that flushes him out. This will of course be resisted and the process may be protracted, and events on the streets will anyway play out by the day. It is unlikely in the foreseeable future that Imran Khan will see ‘looted money’ returned to the exchequer; but the green shoots of accountability are in evidence. We wish them well.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 21st, 2016.