Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Thursday sought a response from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to petitions seeking his disqualification over allegations that his children were involved in a financial scandal.
The court issued notices to Sharif and others in response to constitutional petitions filed by Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party seeking action against the premier and members of his family. Sharif’s aides said the court gave him two weeks to submit his reply.
Sharif has been pressured by Khan’s party since leaked financial documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca revealed the premier’s three children owned offshore assets worth millions of dollars.
In a related development, the ruling PML-N party rejected reports that the government was planning to detain Khan and other leaders of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf to thwart their campaign to blockade Islamabad through a protest beginning on November 2.
A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali refused to pass an order restraining the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf from holding a protest in Islamabad. Jamali observed that when the executive fails to protect the fundamental rights of citizens, the top court will intervene to protect their rights.
Sharif welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision and said in a brief statement that he had nothing to hide and would be happy to appear before the court.
Earlier, Sharif and his aides discussed legal options the government could exercise in its defence at judicial and constitutional forums to counter the allegations made following the Panama Papers leaks.
Media reports said notes were exchanged between Sharif and his legal aides, including attorney general Ashtar Ausaf, law minister Zahid Hamid and former attorney general Salman Aslam Butt. Their deliberations were kept low-key, apparently to avoid media attention.
The government is also framing a strategy to defend itself in cases involving the Panama Papers leaks in the Election Commission and the Lahore high court, sources said.
Reacting to reports that Imran Khan would be detained before the protest on November 2, Punjab home minister Rana Sanaullah, a senior leader of the PML-N, said that while the government is capable of putting Khan behind bars, it “was not advisable to do so at this stage”.
The News daily had reported on Thursday that the government planned to detain Khan and other leaders of his party to thwart their campaign to “lockdown” Islamabad. Khan and the other could be placed under house arrest, the daily quoted its sources as saying.
The Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf has announced it will mobilise thousands of supporters for the protest aimed at ousting the prime minister.
Khan told his supporters on Thursday that he welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision. He said his protest in the federal capital on November 2 would not end until Sharif stepped down or returned “looted money” to the state exchequer.
The main opposition Pakistan People’s Party also launched a two-pronged attack, accusing Sharif of accentuating the crisis by refusing to probe the Panama Papers leaks and condemning Imran Khan and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf for “indulging in a criminal act” by threatening to blockade the capital.
PPP leader Syed Khurshid Shah, leader of the opposition in the National Assembly or lower house of Parliament, told a news conference that his party was neither with the government nor with Khan’s protest.
“Sealing Islamabad is like sealing Pakistan. This is not a protest, but a criminal act,” Shah said. “I don’t know who has advised Imran Khan to say it on record.”