The difference that a single judge of a bench can make
The verdict which was presented as a landmark for a century leaves many bewildered.
The apex court’s majority verdict gives Nawaz Sharif a conditional lease of life. Two out of the five judges have held him ineligible for the office while the other three have considered the evidence insufficient to send the Prime Minister home. Two of these three judges have expressed serious reservations about the way Nawaz Sharif and his scions have defended themselves. All five have agreed on setting up a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to probe allegations of financial irregularities and money laundering requiring the PM and his two sons Hussain and Hasan to present themselves before the team. The JIT is also required to probe the money trail and the claims by the Qatari prince. The team is required to finish the job in sixty days after its formation which has to take place within a week. The JIT will have to report every fortnight to a special bench of the Supreme Court. Upon receipt of the JIT report, “issues relating to the disqualification of the PM may be taken up,” says the judgment.
The verdict is historic in a limited sense because while in the past a sitting prime minister was removed by the Supreme Court and another ordered to be arrested none has been investigated by the agencies so far. But will this investigation really be independent and transparent? Among the components of the JIT, the State Bank of Pakistan, Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP), National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) are headed by Nawaz Sharif’s nominees. While it is normal for bodies of the sort in countries which have evolved independent institutions to conduct probes of the kind, these institutions have yet to shed the influence of their appointing authorities in Pakistan where a culture of patronage and exchange of favours continues to flourish. What is more, the presence of two military controlled security agencies in the JIT is likely to generate questions of another type.
The two main opposition parties have expressed their reservations on the judgment which has failed to end the political confrontation caused by the Panama leaks in the country. Zardari believes constituting a JIT of the sort is tantamount to giving the premier a safe exit. Imran Khan has demanded that the PM resign during the investigation to ensure the JIT’s independence and even-handedness and re-assume the office only after proving himself innocent. The JIT would thus work under a cloud.
The ruling party has tried to give a spin to the verdict maintaining that the PM had himself suggested the composition of a commission six months back. The Commission suggested by the PML-N however was to work under ToRs that would have turned it into a rubber stamp. This is why the government and the opposition failed to agree on its ToRs for weeks with the opposition finally rejecting the PML-N suggestion. The JIT working under the supervision of the SC is however an altogether different body.
The decision has failed to put an end to polarisation in the country. Within hours of the announcement of the decision PML-N workers celebrated ‘victory’ at a crowded square in Faisalabad where aerial firing was resorted to. Meanwhile PTI has announced a countrywide public contact campaign which it calls holding of the ‘people’s court’.
The Prime Minister is required to attend the One Belt One Road (OBOR) summit next month in China. In June he is scheduled to be present in the crucial SCO summit meeting in Astana where the issue of making Pakistan a full permanent member is to be taken up. After the SC judgment the future of the Prime Minister would remain in limbo till the finalisation of JIT report and the decision taken on it by the special bench of the SC. Despite the ‘verdict of the century’ till then uncertainty will prevail in the country.