Disqualification of a powerful Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif in a unanimous five member bench decision of apex Court set the future direction of the political and legal history. The opinion inside Pakistan is divided, some believe that disqualification setting grounds for a new era of accountability but some conspiring that ousting elected PM through a vague article of the constitution “Truthful and Righteous”, will lead Pakistan into chaos and permanent political instability.
Taking the political mileage, the opposition party Pakistan Tehrik -e- Insaf, terms the decision as a new era of accountability, nobody is above the law, and corrupt power elite has to face the due course of law just like the commoners. But the victim ‘ruling party’ not accepted the decision expressed concerns on legal grounds, which upon the disqualification is decided, asserted quest for new rules of the game is required to stop interventions.
Besides the concerns that ruling party, Pakistan Muslim League (N) implemented the verdict and prime minister stepped down immediately after the decision and the entire cabinet dissolved with the effect. The party will come up with an interim prime minister, then; Punjab Chief Minister, Shahbaz Sharif, the younger brother of ousted Nawaz Sharif nominated for next [remaining tenure] Prime Minister of Pakistan, and obviously will decide his own cabinet. Unprecedented disqualification become precedent may have decade long implications on Pakistan’s political system and legal history.
Disqualification of an elected PM trigger heated debate among the political circles, media, academia, legal experts, and scholars. The debate is surrounding around certain points, as foreign linkages of Panama case, impact on the political landscape and connection with geopolitical environment future of democracy. The victorious party believes disqualification of a corrupt prime minister would lead towards corruption free Pakistan and a new era of accountability begins, the losing party argue supreme courts intervention to disqualifying an elected leadership would disastrous precedent for the future of Pakistan.
We can trace the roots of the Panama Case outside the Pakistan’s boundaries, which become the source of the case before the apex court. The revelation of US sponsored Panama papers belongs to Panama based Mossack Fonseca & Co. through a German newspaper, established its foreign linkages. Soon after the Panama revelation, opposition leaders, PTI, Chairman Imran Khan Niazi, Awami Muslim League leader, Mr. Shaikh Rashid and religious party Jamat -e- Islami, Mr. Siraj Ul Haq approached the Supreme Court and plead for disqualification of Mr. Nawaz Sharif on basis of corruption and money laundering. The original allegations before the court did not prove [either sent NAB for filing references in accountability courts] instead, a weak ground termed as a key reason for disqualification of Mr. Nawaz Sharif. The Guardian, in an editorial, wrote: Disqualification of Mr. Nawaz Sharif “Though this leaves Pakistan’s politics in turmoil, it is a very international affair”.
As it’s not a secret that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi enjoys good intimacy with Mr. Sharif who is keen to improve ties with India. There is a point of view that ousted Nawaz Sharif not become a victim of Panama but Dawn Leaks. The ‘deep state’ was annoyed over the Dawn Leaks, as it served the purposes of the enemy, India. The narrative was shaped through the Dawn Leaks “military establishment back terrorists”, Mr. Sharif’s silence over Indian spy Kulbhushan Yadav among the reasons for such hard decision.
Indian media term it negative development as the Hindustan Times wrote in an editorial titled “Nawaz Sharif’s conviction leaves a political vacuum in Pakistan”, the paper wrote “this is not good for India”, “His departure from the political scene is almost certain to herald a period of volatility within Pakistan and, therefore, the greater risk in relations between India and Pakistan.” However, the Indian government said ‘internal affair’ but is concerned with the developments taking place in Pakistan fears that India lost its soft corner, establishment becomes more powerful, will Kashmir movement to see new heights. The Blomberg said in an editorial “Any hope of reducing tensions, slowing the arms race in South Asia and increasing cross-border trade has been shelved yet again”.
History of Pakistan is a history of political instability. Since its inception, none of the civilian Prime Minister complete constitutional tenure, but the military regimes thrive even more than decades. The understanding of political landscape is important for grasping upcoming political developments. The political divide in Pakistan does not lie with the ideologies or manifestos, it manifests civilian as one party, no matter, operates under which name and political slogan. The second party is the “deep state” or so called establishment, which have deep roots in politics. The power struggle continues between two parties. The ‘deep state’ support any political party until its serve their purposes when a political party starts independent decisions or shows reluctance, the decline of the said party begins with immediate effect. The ruling party Pakistan Muslim League (N) was once blue eyed until serving their purposes, but right now both stands opposite side.
The question, how Supreme Court’s verdict to implicate the political arena. Accountability on ‘leaks and weak grounds’ would set the dangerous precedent for the political stability in the country. PTI Chairman Imran aides celebrated the victory and indicated file fresh references in the supreme court against replacing both candidates for the premiership. Cases against upcoming PMs means political instability to continues for an indefinite time, endless accountability to place the country into permanent chaos. Taking the decision as mileage for upcoming elections PTI has to work hard, as ruling party still has a strong hold in the larger province of Punjab if PML (N) maintains its majority in the province will come up with the satisfactory majority to form the government even after the next general elections. In 2018, Senate (Upper House) election; Pakistan Muslim League (N) will become the largest party may ease the future legislation; even in the case, opposition party PTI get a majority in 2018 elections may be unable to legislate smoothly.
Although the apex court’s verdict is taken as an institutional response over a qualification for holding a public office, its geopolitical context is very much important as China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) was a major development during Mr. Sharif’s government. Now the question that whether foreign linkages do serve the purposes of plotters to undermine CPEC. The answer is no, for the time being, as its just change of face will have little impact on policies regarding the project. But the biggest problem still lies with the succeeding candidate for the premiership of Mr. Shahbaz Sharif may face trouble in the court over another JIT report of Model Town in mass murders case and Hudaibiya Paper Mills corruption scandal. Mr. Shahbaz is believed to have good working relations with the ‘deep state’ in Pakistan and biggest supporter of Chinese vision. Therefore, there is no immediate threat to the project but it gets worst impacts of political instability prevails.
Reacting to the political changes in Pakistan, arising due to the Supreme Court verdict in the Panama Papers case, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang said during a press briefing, “We believe that the China-Pakistan strategic cooperative partnership will not be affected by the change of the situation inside Pakistan. China stands ready to work with Pakistan to continue jointly building the [One] Belt and [One] Road.”
Future of Democracy
Accountability to become a key factor in future politics of Pakistan. As the history progress, internal conflict of the system brings new conditions. The fresh civil-military relations to put the country into a new situation. Though it’s not possible for a direct military coup in near future. But flagging democracy will have to face future shocks as new judicial precedent to become double edge sword for political stability in the country. As PTI Chairman Imran Khan has already announced to file a fresh reference against CM Shahbaz Sharif over Hudaiybia Mills case after his nomination as a candidate of the Premiership from the ruling party.
If disqualification on the week grounds becomes a precedent for future, it will indicate instability as a permanent feature in Pakistan and institutional confrontation deepens in the coming days. Civilian leadership may come with legislation to limiting institutional role to stop future interventions. Such developments may leave a negative impact on Pakistan’s politics. Indeed, it’s fact that the country lacks strong political parties with intra-party democracy, even the recent election reforms did not address the issue of the ‘Family Monopoly’ on parties. They must reform the entire political structure to make constitutional democracy running and functional. The political actors should show restraint and avoid any extreme measures because permanent instability to serve purposes of hostile players. There is also need to evolve a transparent system of accountability in the country, acceptable to every quarter.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy and position of Regional Rapport.