From Panama to Pakistan

Pakistanis were glued to television screens at 2 pm on April 20 in anticipation of the Supreme Court verdict of the Panama Papers case, which was widely expected to make history. The verdict itself did not hand a victory to either party. The bench, comprising five honourable judges, was split 3/2. But the SC’s announcement of a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) triggered possibly premature celebrations from the ruling Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf immediately claimed victory as well, pointing out the judges had not cleared the prime minister and his family. Just over a year ago, the Panama Leaks made headlines across the world and the ripple effects made their way to Pakistan. But the saga has not ended and the JIT is expected to present its findings in 60 days. The Pakistan Peoples Party, the PTI and other opposition groups are demanding the prime minister step down while the investigation is underway. The ruling party maintains that the prime minister is not going anywhere. So what next? There will be a hiatus in political activities during the Holy month of Ramzan, but it seems neither side is willing to budge.

Narratives presents the views of leading jurists and analysts.

Shaiq Usmani, Justice (retd): “This is the first time in the history of Pakistan when courts have judged people who are currently in the top echelons of power in the government. It is also the first time when two minority judges have held that people at the top are dishonest. The court ruling on the Panama Papers case will not die down. It will boomerang again and again and will be cited in future court cases, in political gatherings and everywhere where people gather to discuss the future of our country. It will make the politicians of Pakistan more cautious. It won’t directly end corruption because that is in our nature. But it will definitely make politicians more wary and that might lead to reducing levels of corruption in the country. There is hope that eventually, if we elect more honest leaders in the future, corruption might die down entirely”.
Zahid Hussain, Journalist and author: “The Supreme Court’s decision on Panama is a pretty damning verdict for Nawaz Sharif. Two of the judges held him guilty while the other three have demanded that further investigation be carried out. The Supreme Court has asked the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to investigate the Sharif family on 12 points which is almost an indictment of Nawaz Sharif. His fate depends upon the results of the JIT’s investigation. How this case will impact future corruption in Pakistan depends essentially upon the JIT verdict. If the JIT disqualifies Nawaz Sharif, it will certainly deter politicians from corruption. However, it won’t end corruption entirely because the phenomenon is so deeply rooted in Pakistan’s political culture. It will only make politicians more cautious while carrying out corruption”.
Amjad Shoaib, General (retd): “The Joint Investigation Team (JIT) cannot be 100 percent fair if the prime minister does not step down. The people conducting the inquiry against the sitting prime minister have to return to their own departments after two months. The honourable and ethical thing would be for the prime minister to step down for the course of the inquiry. What new documents can the JIT unearth that haven’t been presented in court already? They simply won’t be allowed access to any new documentation. So I really don’t see any point in forming the JIT. Governments themselves have ruined investigative agencies by packing them with loyalists or supporters. I don’t see any threat to the prime minister under the circumstances. The Pakistan Peoples Party has its own heavy baggage and they cannot confront the government in Parliament or create agitation on the streets. Imran Khan is the only one protesting strongly in asking the PM to step down”.
Anees Jillani, Advocate, Supreme Court of Pakistan: “At this point, it is very difficult to say whether the JIT will be able to succeed in its objective or not. Two things have become very clear. Firstly, Nawaz Sharif’s lawyers have not been completely transparent in presenting evidence to courts. I hope that the JIT is able to bridge this information gap. Secondly, all institutions nominated in the JIT come under the power of the Prime Minister. It will be incredibly difficult for them to give a judgment which goes against the Prime Minister. The JIT will present its findings to the Special Bench which will then decide what to do with the case. Overall, I believe this case will have a very positive impact on the spread of corruption in Pakistan, as well as in setting a remarkable precedent in court history. After all, it is the first time that a sitting prime minister is being investigated in this manner. Courts will continue to refer to it long after it is over”.