It was a day of reckoning. The political temperature was at an all-time high. The verdict was about to be announced. The politicians were waiting for a decision that could possibly end Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s political career. It was judgment day!
The Panama Papers fiasco that engulfed Pakistan’s political fabric around its leaked papers of money laundering and other financial information with Nawaz Sharif and his family at the centre point was the talk the town ever since these Papers surfaced in May 2016. The truth became evident on April 20, 2017, following the verdict by the five judges – two voting to disqualify the Prime Minister while three ordering for more investigation. The ball is still in the air and no one’s court. Although Nawaz Sharif did survive, this is not the end. The opposition with Imran Khan and Asif Zardari leading from the front still hope to see the Prime Minister resign. Moreover, the formation of a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) means that these inquiries will keep going. Looking at the history of Pakistan’s political system, ‘guilty’ is a word not known by the rich and famous.
The third time Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, with over three decades of political experience will not go down easily – be it the Panama Papers or any other political crisis for that matter. Although the judgment presented by the five judges has not removed Nawaz Sharif’s name from the list he does not want to be a part of, it is the judges’ order of ‘further investigation’ that may hint at a heap of trouble for the first family of Pakistan.
The Panama papers have stirred the nation to a point where public opinion signalled at the removal of the Prime Minister. However, the verdict has consoled both sides – the government and the opposition. Where the government is relieved to stay in office, the opposition is hopeful, along with the nation that the announcement of a historic decree is still in the pipeline, to be presented by the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) after two months.
Where the Panama Papers have shocked the world, the over 500-page judgment presented by the Supreme Court begins in a rather unorthodox fashion. A quote of Balzac, a French novelist is written on the first page of the verdict, which also appears on the first page of Mario Puzo’s novel, The Godfather, “Behind every great fortune there is a crime.” Was this quote placed in the context of the judgment or did it have an intrinsic value signalling at the final judgment?
Furthermore, the involvement of the Military Intelligence and the ISI into this investigation and probing into the financial matters of the Panama Papers involving Nawaz Sharif will not bode well for the civil-military relations. Speaking of an estimate or a prediction, if the JIT, for instance, clears Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of the allegations and charges as mentioned in the Panama Papers, his party may not show the energy and dynamism during the days leading to the 2018 elections. This may give PTI and PPP a chance to campaign vigorously during the pre-2018 election era. Even today, the opposition is united against the government and expecting Nawaz Sharif to do what he may never do – resign. Certainly, PTI will continue to mount pressure on the Prime Minister to resign, and an Imran Khan-led sit-in may even follow if the JIT’s decision gives Nawaz Sharif the green signal to continue as the PM. Furthermore, the Lahore High Court Bar Association (LHCBA) has given an ultimatum to Nawaz Sharif to step down or face lawyers' movement that may overshadow the one initiated in 2007.
The third-time prime minister may have gotten out of the woods; however, the path ahead is still precarious. What many considered as ‘The End’ of the investigation into the Panama Papers is perhaps the interval of the movie. The climax is yet to come. The investigations will continue. The cat has yet to come out of the bag.
The writer is an author and a freelance columnist.