It is perhaps the most important court case in the history of our nation; one that will set historical precedence no matter what the decision is. It is thus our responsibility as citizens to be aware of what such a case could mean.
On the one hand, stands a seasoned politician. One who has, throughout his political career, navigated several such issues and allegations but has not necessarily handled a judicial matter of this scale or under such circumstances. While one could bring up the contempt case in 1997 which is remembered for the infringement of the judiciaries independence, the case that is being run now is under a judiciary that was propped up after the lawyer’s movement. This is a judiciary that cannot be denounced by “Democratic Parties” because that is where they invested heavy political capital in 2007; a judiciary that has already dismissed Mr. Yusuf Raza Gillani prior to this case .
On the other hand however, stands an unrelenting leader who managed to capture the voice of a vast population in the last elections of this nation. A leader who, after the Dhandhli ruckus, had been seen as somewhat of a loose cannon, but nonetheless was able to make considerable headway regarding the establishment of the democratic process within Pakistan (even if he is sometimes politically linked to the military establishment). Nevertheless, for us to gauge the impact of the Panama Case, we must first trace its history. The following is a brief history of the Panama case.
April 4 2016
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalism released more than 11.5 million secret files from the Panama-based law firm Mossac Fonseca which revealed the offshore holdings of several high-profile personalities. Some of these personalities included Benazir Bhutto, Rehman Malik, Syed Hasan Jafri, Aleem Khan, Irfan Puri and, most famously, the Sharif family. According to The ICIJ website, the Pakistani PM’s children were owners of several offshore companies. Evidence of such is present in the form of the loan applications signed by Mariam and Hussain Nawaz in which “Nescol, Nielson and another group accompanied with their London properties were kept as collateral.” These holdings were then transferred to Hasan Nawaz in 2014.
It should be borne in mind that such offshore companies are not illegal; however, they can act as tools used for money laundering and tax evasion – both major offenses in the eyes of the law.
April 5 2016
“I hereby announce to form a judicial commission which will be led by a former judge of the Supreme Court,” was what Mr. Nawaz Sharif said, announcing the judicial probe to look into these foreign companies in what seemed to be a reaction to the allegations made by the opposition, mostly led from Bani Gala. However, the PM’s announcement seemed have done nothing to curb the pressure from PTI and other opposition parties which kept raising questions about the efficacy and the legitimacy of said probe.
May 16 2016
The Prime Minister made his way down to the parliament to answer the seven questions that the opposition had posed to the PM, and, more importantly, to restore continuity of government since the opposition parties had boycotted both the upper and the lower house. While such was the official response of the PM house, perhaps the most important reason for such a televised address was to recapture the airwaves in an attempt to control the narrative.
In his extensive address, Mr. Nawaz Sharif explained some of his family’s income streams and urged all the political parties to work together to agree on the committee’s Terms of References mutually.
The opposition, however, seemed less than pleased; following the address, the opposition walked out of the house and, in the following days, posited 70 questions to the PM regarding his family’s financial holdings abroad.
May 18 2016
The 12-member committee that would decide the terms of reference to the Panama probe were announced. It seemed as though real headway would be made; both the government and the opposition – except MQM – decided to sit on the table and decide the terms of reference to the committee. However, a consensus was far from reached.
The government argued for an open-ended inquiry effectively bringing everyone named in the Panama leaks or otherwise (i.e. anyone upon whom questions are raised regardless of their connection or lack there off to the Panama leaks) to be investigated – a thorough solution as they posited. Such would mean that the Sharif family could be left without investigation for a potentially indefinite period – something that was not acceptable to the opposition.
This, coupled with the Chief Justice of Pakistan rejecting to form a “toothless commission” on the request of the government , meant that all further negotiations would lead to almost nothing. According to some, the commission was doomed to fail since there were too many interests at play.
October 15 2016
Mr. Imran Khan, who was disgruntled with the government’s attitude and the lack of action from the apex court, said, “If the judicial institutes do not listen to us what option is left but to protest on the streets?” Khan sahib further added the that to garner the attention, he would shut down the government in Islamabad. However, such a sentiment was not shared by much of the political establishment. With the memories of the Dharna and the disarray that the country had fallen into during those times still fresh in the minds of both the government and the opposition, further exacerbated by the historical precedence of military interventions during such times, it was felt that such an action would be reckless at best and dangerous at worst. Khan remained adamant that he would continue to Islamabad with or without political support. However, with the government taking active steps to stop Imran Khan from taking to the streets of Islamabad, and with the political climate at its peak temperature, the Supreme Court took up Khan’s Petition to consider the case, and thus Khan abandoned the march to Islamabad. However, to display his political strength and support, he decided to march onto Raiwind after which the court took up Mr. Khan’s petition.
October 20 2016
The supreme court took up the petitions filed by several of the opposition parties, and the Panama case as we know it began.
The case became a public spectacle with both sides lobbing attacks within and outside the courtrooms. Mr. Khan and his associates submitted “evidence from the public domain” which included interviews and other documents contained in the public record. This was an extensive collection of records in which PTI illustrated three major aspects.
The evidence presented highlighted the confirmation of Maryam Safdar and her brother’s assets abroad, the alleged money laundering by the Sharif’s during the 80s and the 90s and the detail of tax record of the Sharif family since the 1970s and of loans the family got written off.
However, the defense of Nawaz Sharif and his family started off with attemps to separate both Hassan and Hussain from their father, and then stating that Maryam’s signatures were faked; it seemed as if the defense wanted to win the case on technicalities, providing the opposition with more ammunition outside the courts. This, coupled with no documents produced by the defense until 12th January, meant that the case was becoming weaker. Even after some documents were submitted, the defense contended on 31st January that “it is not possible to present 45 years- old records”.
April 20 2017
The decision was announced. Mr. Nawaz Sharif was not disqualified. In a 3 – 2 decisions split it was found that two judges, Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa and Justice Gulzar Ahmed, felt that Mr. Nawaz Sharif was not honest towards the people of Pakistan. The majority, however, believed that more investigations were in order.
Thus, a JIT (Joint Investigation Team) was set up comprising members of six organizations. The members of the JIT included Wajid Zia (FIA), Irfan Naeem (NAB), Muhammad Nauman (ISI), Kamran Khurshid (Military Intelligence), Bilal Rasool (Security Exchange Commission of Pakistan) and Amer Aziz (State Bank of Pakistan). Since its inception, the JIT has summoned several High-profile personalities which include the Prime Minister and Hussain Nawaz.
Even though the JIT has complained that it has faced issues at several points of the investigation, its findings and the subsequent events would be unprecedented. What we are witnessing today is democracy functioning at a level unknown to Pakistan. What we must, however, hope for is a peaceful resolution to this case. The attacks on the Supreme Court and the military coups of yesteryear have already done too much damage to the fabric of this nation. Ultimately, this case is only strengthening democratic institutions without which a democratic society cannot function. We as a democratic nation owe it to ourselves to allow for this case’s peaceful resolution. Whether or not we agree with the decision is our prerogative, and such is the beauty of democracy. However, whether or not we come out of this a stronger country is also our prerogative – and such is the responsibility that comes with democracy.