The Pakistan Supreme Court last week reached a halfway-house in the case against Nawaz Sharif’s alleged involvement in the Panamagate scandal.
The verdict is neither here nor there. The country’s Prime Minister has not been disqualified. Yet any sense of satifaction has been tempered by the fact that the five-judge Bench has not awarded a clean chit either.
The differences within the court must have been sharp if the ratio of the split verdict ~ 3-2 ~ is any indication.
Of particular significance therefore are the two dissenting notes.
The two judges, who have ruled against Sharif, observed that he should be disqualified as he could no longer be considered ‘honest’ and ‘truthful’ (ameen and sadiq), whereas the other three were in favour of forming a Joint Investigation Team to take a call on whether or not the charges against the Prime Minister were true.
The sigh of relief stems from a not too comforting margin. On the surface, the judicial process is bound to be prologed further still with the court ordering the formation of a JIT to probe how the family’s money was transferred to Qatar.
With the present Army Chief General Khamar Javed Bajwa, not as averse to the civilian establishment as some of his predecessors, notably the previous chief, Sharif can be reasonably sure that the Rawalpindi GHQ will not be anxious to rock the boat quite yet.
However, there is no sense of euphoria pending the findings of the JIT. A section of the judiciary is ranged against the Prime Minister as are a crosssection of parties ~ Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreeki-Insaf (PTI), the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), the Watan Party and the All Pakistan Muslim League, which had framed the case as a campaign against corruption.
Once again the judiciary has emerged as an important factor in the power-play, in addition to the military and the Opposition.
The verdict has doubtless been a close call for the Prime Minister. Though he has not been given a clean chit, he has been saved from the ignominy of being disqualified.
Dismissal would have left his party (PML-N) in power, but would have led to another bout of instability in a season of modest growth, marginally improved security, and an uneasy truce between the civilian government and a powerful military.
The result of the JIT probe will be crucial for Sharif not least because of the scheduled elections next year.
The fact that the court is not convinced with the evidence garnered thus far hasn’t really gone in Sharif’s favour.
The Bench is unanimous on the point that it was not satisfied with regard to the money trail provided by the Sharif family’s counsel and has ordered the formation of a JIT to investigate the business dealings abroad. It is a fraught respite.