The Panama Papers verdict has been out for quite some time. The manner in which the case has since proceeded gives an impression that the judiciary has indicted and punished itself. The on-going Joint Investigation Team (JIT) probe under the authority of the Supreme Court of Pakistan bench may end up polarising the country even further than the levels witnessed before the SC admitted for hearing petitions by a political opposition that could smell blood the moment the leaks were reported. The judges should have avoided getting involved in a case of such political undertones. Only the people – the real political sovereigns – should have the mandate to send a government packing. Change of government by any other means has always backfired in this country’s history. The Apex court may disqualify Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and some of his near and dear ones from holding public offices, slap all of them on the wrist, extend the probe or let the first family off the hook. Whatever the SC decides in the matter would remain controversial and hurt the reputation of the judges in a country heavily divided only a year away from its next general election. This becomes even more problematic in view of the deterioration in civil-military relations. The latter have been on a roller coaster ride ever since the current PML-N government announced its plans to General (retd) Pervaiz Musharraf on trial for treason under Article 6 of the Constitution. Recall the dharnas organised by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and the Dawn leaks fiasco. Now, Islamabad is rife with rumours about the nuclear option. Soon after the JIT report is submitted, PM Nawaz Sharif will be disqualified as a member of the National Assembly under Article 63 of the Constitution, says the rumour mill. And with his disqualification, Sharif will cease to be the prime minister of the country. Meanwhile, the first family’s trial in the matter may start at relevant fora, add rumours. No matter how controversial it may be, the Apex court retains the power to send the PM packing. If the court exercises this power, it will not be the first instance of its kind in the country. However, whether or not the court will use this power is not the important question to be asked at the moment. The important question remains: what will happen the day after the announcement of this controversial verdict? Consider the following. This would not be the first instance in the country where a government is sent packing through extra-democratic means. We’ve been there and done that. It started in its most extreme form immediately after the birth of the country as the first Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, was assassinated in 1951. In 2013, the disastrous policies of the PPP government in the absence of a truly populist leader after the martyrdom of Benazir Bhutto had led many of the party’s voters towards the cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan. The current crisis, too, has kick started a process of mass exodus of constituency-driven politicos of the PPP into the fold of the Bani gala empire. The trouble with Mr. Imran Khan is that as he gears up for another round of electoral politics he has disappointed his urban-based constituency of young voters deprived of their dreams of ‘change’ as the party gives the look of a reincarnated Q-League. Instead of a programme driven politics like that of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s, Mr. Khan has adopted an approach that has enabled him to just gather lots of turncoats in his cupboard. The people of Pakistan know quite well that the ruling elite’s practices of stashing their ill-gotten wealth abroad and using it to set up businesses and construct palaces outside the country will not end with a possible disqualification of the Sharifs. State institutions will remain under the influence of the rich and the mighty and civil institutions, in particular, will remain subservient to the deep state. In this scenario, a verdict that removes Sharifs from power will be viewed as a judicial coup d’état at the behest of their political rivals – engineered and facilitated by the powerful establishment of the country. Angry voices conveying the same messages are reaching a crescendo already. With financial irregularities and fortunes of bigwigs around Imran Khan, himself included, in public knowledge – the Sharifs and their supporters in the media will refer to these examples and others of the Punjab Bank-fame Q Leaguers, the PPP wallahs and the civil and military bureaucrats who’re making hay while the sun shines. This will be happening as their party remains in power till September 2018 – both at the centre and in Punjab. The next round of Senate elections in March 2018 will give the PML-N another boost by giving them majority in the upper house. Any attempt to deny them this majority will also favour them politically ahead of general elections. So regardless of its good intentions, the Apex court has only undermined its cause by first deciding to hear the controversial case and then through the language of the April 20 verdict with two judges using terms like ‘Sicilian Mafia’ and ‘Godfather’. Similarly, the following episodes have only tarnished the image of the JIT formed in the matter: the nomination of ISI and MI representatives; the manner in which other members of the team were handpicked; the exclusion of the Intelligence Bureau; the reported harassment of Tariq Shafi and Javed Kiani at the hands of the JIT; the JIT report submitted before the Apex court bench using information of the PM House gleaned through ‘technical means’; media monitoring reports alleging media interference in the matters of the JIT; the matter of leak of Hussain Nawaz’s photo; the admission in court that the matter involved a JIT staffer whose identity, organisation and motive remain unknown. The JIT had been entrusted with investigation and collection of evidence. Yet, the unit is emerging as a tool for intimidation. One wonders how the JIT plans to collect evidence on questions related to UAE, Qatar, Panama, UK and Saudi Arabia as it has not even visited these places so far. Despite all this, if the court choses to proceed against Nawaz Sharif, it may have narrow legal powers sans the moral power. This may satisfy the sadistic itch for a change that comes with bypassing of the political sovereign – the people. The long term repercussions for the judiciary, political parties and state institutions (including the deep state) will be a disaster in the making. The anarchy and the polarisation that may ensue afterwards may pose an existential threat given the tensions in the region as well as the world – especially as the US under an unpredictable and beleaguered Trump hosts staunch anti-Pakistan hawk Modi on Monday (today). Published in Daily Times, June 26th, 2017.