Panama Verdict: Sharif Off the Hook As All Await the Army General's Wink
TORONTO: Billed as the verdict of the century the Supreme Court of Pakistan split decision on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif alleged ill-gotten wealth, turned out to be the anti-climax of the century.
The apex court in a 3-2 decision directed the government to form a joint investigating team comprising civil servants to look into the money trail, unearthed by Panama Leaks, of millions of pounds used to buy four expensive apartments in London.
Pakistan’s leading opposition party Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf of former cricketer Imran Khan was the main claimant in this case that started in November 2016 and held the country’s politics on tenterhooks for whole one year. Two out of five judges agreed that there was enough evidence that the money in question was sent abroad illegally while three judges said the matter needed further investigation.
However, formation of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) comprising government servants meant that the chances of any real investigation and a conclusive outcome are next to nothing as in the entire history of Pakistan no commission, inquiry or JIT led to any conclusion. All inquiries and commissions have ended up recommending worthless measures and no one cared to listen. The proposed JIT would be even more toothless as it would be investigating its own boss who happen to be the chief executive of the country and JIT members would be led by a Grade 20 officer.
The verdict would certainly provide a big relief for the Prime Minister and his party as they can claim victory and move ahead. It has provided Nawaz Sharif enough time to prepare for the next elections and that is all he needed.
Like the previous two elections the next election too will be contested on the issue of the severe energy shortfall that has crippled the country’s economy and agitated the man on the street. Currently the shortfall between the power demand and supply is 700MW and he Sharif government badly wants time, perhaps a year and a half, to move ahead on the under-construction power projects. If the PML-N and the Sharifs manage to bridge the shortfall, they have a good clear shot on next elections. But this will of course all depend on whom the establishment (read Army) wants to win.
The leader of the main opposition party in Pakistan Imran Khan had an exclusive meeting with the new Army Chief General Bajwa ten days ago. This sparked off rumours that Khan was told not to warm up the streets to oust Sharif as the country is busy grappling with too many problems at the moment – Karachi and terrorism in south west being the most potent. Since the meeting was one-on-one so the rumours can stay as they are – rumours.
Imran Khan and PPP’s Asif Zardari are estranged bed-fellows. Khan finds it difficult to agitate against corruption with Zardari on his side so he would try not to join forces with the former Pakistan President. This will favour Sharif, as he can then complete his power projects unopposed for the next elections. Also the PPP has no street power but Khan has. So PTI does not stand to gain much from a partnership with the PPP anyway.
The split verdict of the Supreme Court has ensured that the Prime Minister is not de-seated and at the same time has given the opposition enough gun-powder to throw at Sharif. Let’s see which way the generals wink.
(Mohammed Rizwan is a Pakistani journalist based in Toronto)