Nawaz Sharif has become the first sitting Prime Minister to appear before an investigative team comprising civilian and military bureaucrats as mandated by the Supreme Court. JIT is probing sources of Sharif family’s wealth and financial details of their properties abroad. Since the revelations of Panama Papers, a political scandal emerged culminating in Supreme Court ordering an investigation within 60 days. In past few weeks, several controversies about the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) have been the subject of intense media debates. They have been scrutinizing JIT practices and methods, and also the alignments of its members. It is now beyond a criminal investigation. The credibility of JIT has been called into question even before it has finalised and submitted its report. Sadly, some of the acts of JIT have also raised questions in addition to the noise generated by ruling party and its stalwarts.
In Pakistan’s context, Panama Papers case has turned into a political struggle. Even the JIT probe is a mix of the judicial with the political. The judiciary invited representatives of military, who have no expertise in probe of financial crimes, to be part of the JIT. Representatives of military’s intelligence institutions, ISI and MI, are fully involved in JIT’s activities. A report submitted by the JIT to the Supreme Court highlighting media commentary — including social media trends — about JIT appears to be the work of an overzealous media cell usually maintained by intelligence outfits. The Supreme Court has yet to pass a verdict on nature of JIT activities, but it appears that waters are muddied even before the investigations have concluded.
By appearing before a supposedly ‘controversial’ JIT, PM Sharif has gained political mileage with his core political base. He has allowed accountability of the first family, while being the chief executive. This by itself is quite unprecedented. In his media-talk, after his appearance before the JIT, he was visibly defiant. He vowed to not hold back in coming days and weeks. Nawaz Sharif’s remarks will lead to an increased political temperature; and it is evident that he wants to move towards the showdown with his opponents. Mr Sharif, rightly, reminded his opponents — political and non-political — that the real JIT would be elections slated for 2018. At that time, people of Pakistan will choose their next government and Mr Sharif will be held accountable. Until then, stability needs to be restored in the system.
PM Sharif has a point but the public opinion in Pakistan is taking a different direction. A large number of Pakistanis, tired of political machinations and everyday corruption they suffer, want immediate accountability. There is nothing alarming about our legal system questioning the powerful and holding them to account. PM Sharif should remember that if this momentum continues, his standing in 2018 polls would be dented. Other than fighting the legal case, the ruling party must accept public demand for accountability; and be prepared to deal with an uncertain road ahead. *