Nawaz Sharif quits after court disqualifies him, brother Shehbaz could be Pak PM

HindustanTimes, Islamabad | ByImtiaz Ahmad
Jul 29, 2017 07:44 AM IST

The top court disqualified Sharif after stating that he wasn’t “truthful and honest” about his assets based on the findings of a Joint Investigation Team that was looking into the Panama Papers case.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court disqualified Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Friday over undeclared assets and ordered the filing of criminal charges against him and his family, plunging the country into turmoil ahead of elections due next year.

Activists of Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PNL-N) protest the Supreme Court (SC) decision against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in Lahore on July 28, 2017.(AFP Photo)
Activists of Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PNL-N) protest the Supreme Court (SC) decision against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in Lahore on July 28, 2017.(AFP Photo)

Sharif, 67, resigned soon after the five-judge bench said in a unanimous decision he was disqualified as a member of the National Assembly or lower house of Parliament for not remaining “truthful and honest”.

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Pakistani news channels reported Sharif had recommended to leaders of his PML-N party during a meeting that his younger brother, Punjab chief minister Shehbaz Sharif, should be made the prime minister. Another party leader is expected to serve as interim premier till Shehbaz is elected to Parliament.

No name has been announced for the interim prime minister though Shehbaz is expected to contest from Sharif’s parliamentary seat in Lahore.

The Supreme Court also directed the National Accountability Bureau, Pakistan’s anti-corruption watchdog, to file a case in six weeks against Sharif, his daughter and heir apparent Maryam Nawaz, her husband Muhammad Safdar, and his sons Hussain and Hassan over the family’s offshore assets. The trial of the case should be wrapped up in six months, it ordered.

The court also ordered an investigation into the assets of finance minister Ishaq Dar, a relative of Sharif and one of his closest allies who had earlier been tipped as a possible candidate for the post of premier.

Minister of state Marriyum Aurangzeb said the court’s verdict was “not surprising” but the ruling PML-N party was disappointed. A statement issued by the Prime Minister’s house said Sharif had stepped down despite having “serious reservations” about the judicial process. The statement also spoke of contesting the verdict and said Sharif would emerge victorious in the people’s court.

Sharif, who has denied any wrongdoing, went into a huddle with PML-N leaders to choose a candidate as interim premier. The party has a comfortable majority in Parliament and will face no problems in getting the nominee elected.

Those in contention were National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq, petroleum minister and leading businessman Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, defence minister Khawaja Asif, and commerce minister Khurram Dastagir Khan.

Despite being elected the premier thrice, Sharif has never completed a full term. He was sacked by the president over corruption in 1993 and ousted by then army chief Pervez Musharraf in a 1999 coup. His latest ouster raised questions about Pakistan’s fragile democracy as no premier has completed a full term since the country’s independence in 1947.

The Supreme Court’s judgement, announced shortly after 12pm Pakistan time, also resulted in the dissolution of the federal cabinet. Local media reported that National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq would serve as the interim prime minister.

“He is disqualified as a member of the Parliament, so he has ceased to hold the office of prime minister,” justice Ejaz Afzal Khan told a packed courtroom in Islamabad.

The bench ruled Sharif had been dishonest to Parliament and the courts by not disclosing his employment in Dubai-based Capital FZE company in his 2013 nomination papers and thus could not be deemed fit for his office.

Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, which doggedly pursued the corruption charges against Sharif, hailed the verdict. “I want to tell the nation that it is a huge victory of yours,” Khan told reporters at his home on the outskirts of Islamabad.

“I am seeing the destination of a new Pakistan in front of me,” he said, announcing a rally to be held on Sunday.

After the verdict, opposition supporters shouted slogans in the streets and distributed sweets in Islamabad and Peshawar. Some of them beat drums and shouted “Go Nawaz Go”.

In Lahore, capital of Sharif’s power base of Punjab province, there were sporadic protests as his supporters burnt tyres and blocked roads.

The controversy erupted last year with the leak of 11.5 million secret documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca that revealed the offshore assets of leaders of many countries. Three of Sharif’s four children – Maryam, Hassan and Hussain – were implicated in the papers.

The court concluded the Sharif family had been unable to establish the money trail in the purchase of luxury London flats through offshore companies. In April, the Supreme Court declared there was “insufficient evidence” to oust Sharif and ordered a probe by a Joint Investigation Team.

In its report earlier this month, the JIT said the Sharif family’s assets did not match their known sources of income. The JIT accused Maryam of signing forged documents to obscure the ownership of the London flats.

However, inclusion of representatives of the Military Intelligence and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in the JIT fuelled speculation that the powerful military establishment influenced the probe. The military maintained it had no direct role in the matter.

Minister of state Marriyum Auranzeb told the media that “the real loser in this in the future of democracy of Pakistan”. Maryam Nawaz said the PML-N remains united. “Today will pave the way for Nawaz Sharif’s resounding victory in 2018. He will be unstoppable. Insha’Allah,” she tweeted.

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