Pakistan is without a government, reaffirming yet again that a failed state exists across the Radcliffe Line. It would be pointless to speculate on the future of democracy; the concept has been inherently fragile since 1947.
Friday’s verdict of the Supreme Court that has stripped Nawaz Sharif of prime ministership in the case relating to the Panama papers underlines the supremacy of the judiciary and also, of course, the military.
The subtext of the terse, emphatic, and unanimous judgment must be that a corrupt Prime Minister had presided over the government ever since the last election in 2013.
The setback is not merely that of an individual; it is governance per se that has been jolted to its foundations. Arguably, governance will be in limbo and the crisis could persist till the elections next year, which in itself is no guarantee of stability not least because the country has never had a Head of Government who has completed his five-year term.
The fact that Sharif prefers brother Shahbaz, currently chief minister of the dominant Punjab province as the next PM, would suggest an anxiety to retain power within the family, at any rate till the vote in cast. Was Sharif trying to conceal his chairmanship of the Dubai-based Capital FZE from electoral officers at the time of filing his nomination?
Or did it reflect the typically casual attitude towards filing one’s papers? Answers to these questions on the issues that brought matters to a head may not be forthcoming anytime soon. Suffice it to register that the judiciary has emitted a signal that is as stern as it is appropriate prior to the elections. The implicit message being that pre-election declarations must of necessity be comprehensive, truthful, and transparent. It is pretty obvious that Sharif has failed on every parameter.
His nomination was intrinsically dubious as was his stewardship. While the Prime Minister has been indicted fair and square, the Supreme Court has been suitably robust in its enunciation of the certitudes of electoral engagement. These are the two facets to the judgment and it now devolves on the political class to implement the blueprint for survival, or risk another judicial reprisal. Pakistan has reached a direly critical moment in its political history.
It devolves on a beleagured PML (N), which still has a majority in the 342-member National Assembly, to put in place a government… if only to keep the flag of purported democracy fluttering. In substantial measure, the credit for Sharif’s ouster must go to Imran Khan’s Pakistan’s Tehrik-i-Insaaf (PTI), which had waged a relentless campaign on the Panama Papers and Sharif’s involvement. In the process, the former cricketer has also raised the issue of accountability, which must now apply across the political spectrum. The Supreme Court has spoken bravely and well in a historically faltering country.
The terrorist must be laughing up his sleeve over the failure of government.