The Supreme Court’s split verdict in the Panama Papers case against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family has raised the issue of Sharif’s moral authority to continue as the head of the government. The text of the SC judgment starts with a quote from Morio Puzo’s popular novel ‘The Godfather’. The quote reads, “Behind every great fortune, there is a crime”. Though the majority of the judges have given a 67-day breathing space to the PM by constituting a Joint Investigation Team (JIT), the two senior most judges have disqualified Sharif by invoking Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution in their dissenting notes.Ironically, both the petitioners and the party facing corruption allegations are claiming the judgment as their success. The PM, along with his two expatriate sons, has been ordered to personally appear before the JIT comprising officials from FIA, NAB, SECP, State Bank, ISI and MI.The inclusion of intelligence agencies like ISI and MI in a probe involving financial issues is beyond comprehension. It may only have been done to satisfy the PTI chairman regarding transparency and fairness of the investigation process, thereby, ensuring a greater political buy-in for the verdict.The leadership of the major opposition parties in Parliament, including Asif Zardari and Imran Khan, has demanded that Sharif should step down from the office of the PM.So the question remains: does Nawaz Sharif have the moral authority to serve as the PM as he appears before the JIT in the coming days to verify his financial documents. Will he be able to represent Pakistan internationally in such a situation is another big question mark for the PM’s kitchen cabinet right now. Further, with the SC bench discarding the infamous ‘Qatari letter’ as credible evidence of clean financial transactions, will Sharif’s friends in the Royal families of Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar yet again come to his aid during JIT investigations? Other points to ponder are the response JIT investigations receive from the government’s trusted international allies like China and Turkey, and the impact of the inquiry on the ongoing CPEC projects. With the reopening of the Hudaibiya paper mills case, the legal and moral standing of Senator Ishaq Dar, the alleged accomplice in money laundering, has also been compromised, as he will be under scrutiny by the NAB.If the question of moral authority prevails, what options does the PML-N have for leadership of the party and the government in absence of Nawaz Sharif? The party has no precedent of posing its trust in anyone outside of the Sharif family for leadership roles in the party and government. Unlike the PML-N, the PPP had elected two PMs from outside of the Bhutto family during its five-year term in government from 2008-2013. Another proverbial sword constantly hanging over the PM’s head is the Dawn leaks probe. The report of the probe is expected anytime now, as announced by Minister of Interior Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan. The PM is expected to sacrifice one or more of his aides from the cabinet and the PM House in the wake of recommendations of the probe team.It would be interesting to see what course of action is taken by Nawaz Sharif following the Supreme Court verdict. His options seem to be limited. He could either step aside and nominate some trusted party member as a candidate for the prime minister’s office and wait for the final SC verdict after the JIT probe or he could continue in his office with a hostile joint opposition in the Parliament and on the streets. In the former case, he will have to give a personal sacrifice for the party’s future in popular politics. He could also launch his daughter Maryam Nawaz’s career as the party’s candidate for the PM’s office.
In the latter case, he will continue as a PM under investigation and may possibly be faced with a situation where the court, at any point, on receipt of even a fortnightly report from the JIT can consider his disqualification on corruption charges.
Given the signature stubbornness associated with Nawaz Sharif, even a “layman walking at the Pakistan Chowk in Dera Ghazi Khan” (to paraphrase honourable Justice Asif Khosa) can tell that he is not amongst those who will leave a room when they see the environment getting unfriendly.
Whatever course of action is taken by the PM, more political instability and uncertainty seems to be in the offing.