Panama Papers end Nawaz Sharif's political innings, Shahbaz Sharif to be interim PM
Pakistan is back in political turmoil. Nawaz Sharif has stepped down as Prime Minister after the scathing verdict in the Panama Papers case, which disqualifies him for life from holding any public office.
Now all eyes are on his successor: his brother, Shahbaz Sharif.
However, the development will not have too much bearing on the frosty India-Pakistan relationship, for the latter's support to anti-India terror groups mainly flows from the powerful military.
The five-judge bench of the Pakistani Supreme Court, in its unanimous ruling, directed the National Accountability Bureau to file corruption references within six weeks against Nawaz Sharif, sons Hasan and Hussain, daughter Maryam and son-in-law Captain Safdar. The court also ordered a reference against Finance Minister Ishaq Dar.
This meant that neither Maryam nor Dar could be chosen as Sharif's replacement.
Thus Shahbaz, who serves as the Chief Minister of Punjab, was picked despite holding a provincial seat.
Now, someone from the PML-N will have to resign from his seat in the national parliament, so that Shahbaz can contest on a PML-N ticket to become eligible to become prime minister.
Know for being an efficient administrator, Shahbaz was elected as chief minister of Punjab for the third time in 2013.
The campaign against Sharif, which later saw support from all the major political parties, including the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Jamat-e-Islami, began after the Panama Papers leak, which threw up details of several properties owned by the Sharif family in the United Kingdom.
It had first led to the formation of a joint investigation committee, whose report forms the basis of this verdict by the Supreme Court to bar Sharif for life.
However, the Supreme Court verdict has thrown up a bigger question: is the JIT report sufficient to dislodge a serving Prime Minister without trial? And that too, in a case which involves cooperation from foreign countries? Could all of it fall into place against the powerful Sharif family at such an incredible pace?
Even the earlier verdict, which had announced the formation of the JIT, had two judges on the five member bench who wanted Sharif disqualified on the basis of allegations. They had contended that he could not be considered sadiq (truthful) or amin (righteous), two strange and controversial clauses in the Pakistani Constitution which were inserted during the infamous tenure of General Zia-ul-Haq.
The JIT, meanwhile, which included members of the the ISI and the Military Intelligence, beside other functionaries, was headed by a senior official of the Federal Investigative Agency. The six-member team, which examined Sharif in mid-June, concluded that Sharif “could not satisfactorily answer most of the questions”, and was “evasive, speculative and non-cooperative”.
Speculation about all these unanswered questions points towards the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi. Reports in the Pakistani press talk of how the courts had the approval of powerful Army generals in going ahead against Sharif.
The outgoing Prime Minister has not been on good terms with the generals at the GHQ. The latest leaks in the newspaper Dawn, which showed the Army and the civilian government at loggerheads, were the latest instance of their frosty relations.
The influence of the Pakistan Army is also the reason why the verdict may not have much impact on the India-Pakistan equation. The relationship between the countries has plummeted further after several attacks on Indian soil were traced to outfits operating from Pakistan.
Analysts say it is best to wait and watch for now, and let the events unfold. They say no matter who comes in as Sharif's replacement, the basic policy towards India, of supporting terror groups and providing them sanctuary, would continue.