Panama Papers leaks: Will Nawaz Sharif live to fight another day?
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Panama Papers leaks: Will Nawaz Sharif live to fight another day?

The Sharif family’s legal team has come up with a three-pronged strategy to challenge the JIT’s report —attack the JIT on its conduct, question the Supreme Court bench hearing the case, and immediately files a review petition if the court disqualifies Sharif.

world Updated: Jul 12, 2017 07:25 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad
Imtiaz Ahmad
Hindustan Times, Islamabad
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif,Panama Papers leaks,PML-N
File photo of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.(Reuters)

As Pakistan's Prime Minister grapples with the fallout of a investigating team’s report questioning the financial dealings of his family, the question most people on the streets are asking is what will come first - Nawaz Sharif being forced to step down or the general elections, in which it is expected his PML-N party will do well and possibly return to power.

With the Supreme Court mulling over how to move ahead after the Joint Investigation Team submitted its report on the Sharif family’s offshore assets on Monday, the premier and his close aides have held a series of meetings to chalk out the PML-N’s future strategy.

The premier’s younger brother, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, federal ministers and other aides, including Sharif’s legal wizards, joined such a meeting on Tuesday where the legal defence for the Sharif family was finalised.

For the time being, the family’s legal team has come up with a three-pronged strategy to challenge the JIT’s report.

The first is to attack the JIT on its conduct. The second is to question the Supreme Court bench hearing the case related to the revelations in the Panama Papers leaks. This legal attack will be directed at two judges — Justices Asif Saeed Khosa and Gulzar Ahmed — if they are included in the bench that hears the final argument on the JIT’s report.

In this, Sharif's legal team is contemplating filing a case against Khosa in the Supreme Judicial Council to pressure him and keep him out of the bench that hears the final arguments on the JIT’s report.

The third prong is that the legal team immediately files a review petition in case the apex court disqualifies Sharif and his family members.

The bottom line of this exercise is to buy time. Sharif wants to drag the issue into 2018, when he will call the general election.

By then, a number of projects - particularly power projects - will come online and the electorate, especially in Sharif's home province and stronghold of Punjab, will be able to see the benefits of the PML-N government.

The projects expected to be completed include two nuclear plants, three LNG-powered plants, two gas-powered plants, a coal-fired plant, several wind power plants, a thermal plant extension and two major extensions to hydropower projects.

As things stand, the JIT has submitted its report and the court will hold its next hearing on July 17. The JIT has recommended that the matter be turned over to the National Accountability Bureau for further proceedings.

But the JIT has no legal power to enforce its recommendations, and it is the Supreme Court that will to decide whether to turn the matter over to the NAB or indeed whether the prime minister can be disqualified.

Given the adversarial relationship between Sharif and the court, there is every chance that the premier may be disqualified within the next few months. If this happens, the government will operate without him till the next election.

Even then, there will be a debate on whether Sharif will still be eligible to stand for office, given local elections laws.

In this political uncertainty, it isn't clear which side has the upper hand. But thanks to the role played by the military high command, what is clear is that democracy continues to be under threat in Pakistan even 70 years after independence.

First Published: Jul 11, 2017 19:42 IST