Verdict on Sharif, a milestone

Verdict on Sharif, a milestone

The Pakistan Supreme Court’s verdict disqualifying Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from holding political office is an important milestone in the country’s fight against corruption. The apex court ruling came after a probe into Sharif’s wealth in the wake of his alleged links to offshore accounts and overseas assets owned by three of his adult children that were laid bare by the Panama Papers’ leak. The court declared Sharif guilty of not disclosing his ‘un-withdrawn receivables, constituting assets’ in the nomination papers he filed ahead of the 2013 general elections. It has referred Sharif and his three children to an anti-graft court. Sharif’s supporters have rejected the court verdict, alleging that the judges acted at the behest of the country’s all-powerful military and that the judicial process was flawed.

 
Indeed, Sharif’s relations with the military, which ousted him in a coup in 1999, were never warm and when he began his latest prime ministerial tenure with a promise to try General Pervez Musharraf for treason for his role in the 1999 coup, it raised the hackles of the generals, who perceived this as aimed at taming the military. Although the generals had an axe to grind with Sharif, the court verdict was not a move by the military to oust him. There was evidence of Sharif’s links to corrupt deals. He did withhold information in his nomination papers and his family fudged facts before the court. Also, the five-judge court was unanimous in declaring him guilty. So describing the court verdict as a conspiracy against democracy doesn’t hold water. Hitherto, many Pakistanis believed that Punjabi politicians were above the law. With Sharif’s conviction, the court has indicated that this is not so. It has displayed its independence vis-à-vis the executive.

The Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) has endorsed Sharif’s choice of Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, a loyalist, as interim prime minister. Sharif’s brother Shahbaz is expected to take over the reins subsequently. The Sharif family’s iron grip over the PML(N) is strong and the court verdict, although a setback to the fortunes of Sharif, does not ring the death knell for Pakistan’s most powerful political dynasty. Indeed, this may not be the end of the road for Nawaz Sharif as it is not clear whether the Supreme Court has banned him from electoral politics for life. Despite the smooth and swift transition following Sharif’s resignation, Pakistan can expect political turbulence in the coming months. Opposition leader Imran Khan, the petitioner in the case, has emerged stronger. He can be expected to step up efforts to discredit the government. There is speculation that the military might step in. But so far, it has not shown its hand in the crisis.
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