Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Tuesday said it would form a commission to investigate revelations in the Panama Papers leaks that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s family owned offshore assets worth millions of dollars.
The court’s decision came a day ahead of opposition leader Imran Khan’s planned “lockdown” of the national capital to pressure Sharif to step down or order a probe into the Panama Papers issue.
The Supreme Court asked Sharif’s PML-N party and Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party to submit their terms of reference for the commission. Both parties also agreed to the formation of the panel.
Khan announced after the court’s decision that his protest would be postponed. He instead called on his supporters to join a “thanksgiving” rally at Islamabad’s Parade Ground on Wednesday.
“I thank all those who fought this 20-year-long war against corruption with me,” he told the media. He also accused Sharif of “hurting Pakistan’s development through corruption”.
A five-judge bench of the Supreme Court adjourned the hearing of five petitions seeking a probe into the Panama Papers leaks till Wednesday. The proposed commission will report to the court, which will also choose its members and chairman.
Media reports quoted Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali as saying both the PML-N and PTI should “show restraint”.
“We have to save the country from unrest and crises,” Jamali said, adding the Panama Papers leaks had affected the entire country. The court said it would resolve the issue and all parties would be given an opportunity to present their views.
Khan’s planned lockdown of Islamabad and clashes between PTI supporters and law enforcement personnel over the past few days had sparked fears of a confrontation between the government and the opposition party.
Some observers had suggested that the powerful army could intervene in the event of a breakdown of law and order. Relations between the civilian government and the military are at a low after the army described the leak of information about a crucial meeting on countering terrorism to the Dawn newspaper as a breach of national security.
Sharif has been under pressure from opposition parties to order a probe into revelations in leaked documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca that his three children – Hassan Nawaz, Hussain Nawaz, Maryam Nawaz – owned offshore assets worth millions of dollars. The Sharif family has said the assets were acquired through legitimate business interests.
Defence minister Khawaja Asif, a senior leader of the PML-N, said his party had accepted the Supreme Court’s decision. “In the present situation, it is crucial for all parties to show faith in the Supreme Court,” he said.
“Now the judiciary has taken up the matter, there is no logic in agitation on the streets. Both the accused and accuser are standing before the court, so I think the nation should be given relief from the agony of this protest,” Asif told reporters.