The Sharif family aside there can be few that are satisfied with the verdict delivered by the Supreme Court in the Panama Papers case. Three judges out of the five decided that the route forward was a joint investigation team (JIT) into the matter, and two dissented saying that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had failed to satisfy them and that he should be unseated. By a majority of one, the PM keeps his job and in many ways the country and the polity is back to square one. For Imran Khan, leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, the disappointment must cut deep no matter how he and his followers package their responses, and in the words of one tweeter — ‘Imran Khan will remain prime minister of Facebook and Twitter. Better luck next time Kaptaan.’ It is Nawaz Sharif who is — still — the prime minister of Pakistan, and on current evidence he is not going anywhere other than that in the foreseeable future.
Undaunted, Imran Khan has again demanded the resignation of the PM as has Asif Ali Zardari, co-chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party. Neither can expect a response. For Mr Khan the verdict is a vindication of his long-held position — that the Sharif family collectively is corrupt and unfit to hold power. In part the justices agreed with him, calling into question the much-vexed matter of the money trail, the questionable validity of the Qatari letter and the veracity or otherwise of an address given by PM Sharif to parliament. None of these matters were addressed satisfactorily or definitively during the hearing prior to the verdict. Whether they will be addressed in the proceedings of the JIT is an unknown, but it may be reasonably assumed that the Sharifs are going to do all in their considerable powers to ensure that light is not shed where they would not wish it to be shed.
There now follows over two months of finagling, obfuscation, dissembling and the deployment of smokescreens of varying opacity and durability. That Mr Khan has questioned the moral right of the PM to hold on to his job, and commentators generally appear of the view that the Sharifs collectively and the PM specifically emerge poorly from the verdict, matters little in reality. Possession is nine points of the law, and thus far there is insufficient evidence that would stand up in court to dispossess the PM of the job.
For the JIT there awaits a future of blind alleys aplenty, as well as the exhumation of a number of other matters of interest relating to the financial dealings of the Sharif family, not least the Hudabiya mills case that they must have thought long dead. The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) also emerges considerably besmirched, and it is going to be difficult to see what representative NAB can offer as a member of the JIT who is ‘a clean skin’, unsullied and credible — which somewhat undermines the credibility of the JIT from the outset.
The verdict has not proven the allegations made against the PM — but it has not disproved them either, and sufficient doubt remained in the minds of all the justices for them to make an effort to uncover truths that may be profoundly uncomfortable and could still have the capacity, if found to be incontrovertible, to unseat the PM who is himself required to appear before the JIT. It was Honore de Balzac who wrote ‘Behind every great fortune there is a crime.’ The origins of a great fortune are yet to be truly revealed, and it may be Fyodor Dostoyevsky that will be mined for the drop scene — ‘Crime and Punishment.’
Published in The Express Tribune, April 21st, 2017.