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JIT report indicts Nawaz Sharif's family: here's what lies ahead for the Pak PM

Vivek Katju | Updated on: 11 July 2017, 16:21 IST

The Joint Investigation Team (JIT) appointed by the Pakistan Supreme Court to enquire into the Sharif family’s financial dealings in the Panama Papers case against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif handed over its report to the court on 10 July.

The report has been given to the petitioners and defendants in the case for their views and the court will hold its next hearing on 17 July.

At this time, the report has not been made public but the Pakistan media has revealed its basic thrust: it indicts the Sharif family for grave financial irregularities and for submitting fake and falsified documents. 

The media reports are obviously correct, because the ruling PML(N) and opposition parties have respectively condemned and hailed the report. Nawaz Sharif’s daughter Maryam Nawaz has rejected the report while Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf has expectedly demanded that the Prime Minister quit.

But it is clear that Nawaz Sharif will certainly not oblige and will wait for the next step that the Supreme Court will take.

The army’s view

Pakistan is once again in the midst of a real political crisis and the people will not only focus on what the politicians do but also on the approach the army will take.

The army’s view is important because two members of the JIT were from the institution, one belonging to the ISI and the other to the Military Intelligence (MI).

In an extraordinary move, soon after the court had ordered the setting up of the JIT, the corps commanders had given an assurance that the army, “through its members in JIT shall play its due role in a legal and transparent manner fulfilling the confidence reposed by the apex court of Pakistan”.

Knowledgeable Pakistanis say that this extraordinary comment was made because of doubts raised in some sections on account of the close connection of the DG ISI Lt Gen Naveed Mukhtar’s father with Maryam Nawaz’s daughter's father- in-law (samdhi).

At a corps commanders meeting on 10 July, the army “reiterated to continue supporting and enabling national efforts to play a positive role in line with Pakistan’s national interests”.

While this statement is somewhat vague its direction is clear - the army will monitor the political situation arising out of the case and will await the Supreme Court’s directions in the case. It will insist that the politicians observe these. Thus all eyes will be on the court.

A pattern of irregularities

The essential plea in the Panama Papers case was that they revealed a pattern of financial irregularities and violations of rules by Nawaz Sharif and his family over the years. This included acquiring expensive properties in London.

The petitioners claim that Nawaz Sharif’s conduct was contrary to the stipulations of Articles 62 and 63 of Pakistan’s constitution, prescribing the eligibility criterion for a Member of Parliament. A five-member bench heard the case and gave its verdict in April. Two judges held that the evidence against the Prime Minister was sufficient to show that he was not fit to be an MP, but the other three decided that the material on record could not lead to that conclusion and that a probe was required.

For that purpose the court set up the JIT.

It is likely that the Court will hear the case in a time bound manner so that it arrives at a decision in the coming months. It would be aware that the JIT report will cause political turbulence which will damage the country if the case drags on.

The court will have to decide on two issues. The first will be if the JIT report by itself is conclusive in showing that the Prime Minister’s financial conduct makes him ineligible to be a MP. The other issue will be if the JIT report warrants that the Prime Minister and his sons Hasan and Hussain and daughter Maryam be tried in an accountability court to answer charges of financial wrongdoing.

The court will also consider JIT findings against other important persons associated with the Sharif family, including the powerful finance minister Ishaq Dar.

Political implications

Pakistan’s National Assembly (NA) elections are slated for 2018. Theoretically, Nawaz Sharif can have the NA dissolved even while the Supreme Court is hearing the case, but then he will have to step down as the Pakistan constitution prescribes the appointment of a caretaker government once the NA is dissolved and before the next elected government takes charge.

There is little doubt that the Sharif family’s political hold of the Punjab continues and he who controls Punjab, controls the country. But the PML(N)’s image will be dented if Nawaz Sharif is disqualified by the court. Thus while Nawaz Sharif may be tempted with this option, especially as he has said that the real JIT will be the next elections, he would be aware of the imponderables that such a choice will throw up.

Besides, will he wish to give up office while the case is on? The one advantage of such a move is that he will be able to lead the party personally in the election but that may go if an adverse decision comes during the election campaign.

If the Sharif family decides to stick to office, then the elections will be held as scheduled in 2018. But Nawaz Sharif may have to suffer the humiliation of being forced out because of these corruption charges. Obviously, he will have to weigh his options very carefully. Certainly the army will like the least political turbulence at a time when Pakistan faces security challenges, but it will not like to directly take over political power.

What seems certain is that the court will refer the Sharif family to the accountability court. It therefore faces a long legal battle ahead which will impact its political fortunes.

Its best scenario for the time being is that the court holds that it cannot on the basis of the JIT report oust Nawaz Sharif and refers the report to the accountability courts to try him. That will push the opposition’s efforts to oust him into a long judicial process and give the Sharif’s political space.

First published: 11 July 2017, 16:21 IST