It was with the advent of the Panama Papers leak that the political landscape of Pakistan was jostled out of its deep slumber; the subsequent judicial case holds within it the potential to transform the political playing field for years to come. The Panama Papers case has dominated national headlines for months now, with the verdict split 3-2 among the five-judge bench. Instead of a black and white judgment, with three in favor of a further probe into the money trail of the country’s premier and two ruling in favor of de-notifying the PM, the court called for the creation of a JIT to explore thirteen inquiries concerning corruption allegations against the Sharif family in the next sixty days.
A Joint Investigation Team (JIT), involving members of the Military Intelligence (MI), Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), SECP, and the State Bank have been asked to investigate the case.
From the very start the formation of the JIT became an issue of political squabbles and legal hurdles. To start with, a special bench of the Supreme Court, which will be overseeing the implementation of the Panama Papers case verdict, rejected the nominees from the SECP and the State Bank of Pakistan for the JIT probe. The court categorically wants a transparent investigation with honest and professional officials.
With initial hiccups, the JIT formally started recording the statements of individuals in connection with the probe into the Sharif family’s offshore assets and has prepared a detailed questionnaire for the PM and his sons, based on their previous statements to the media and the Supreme Court. Recently, Hussain Nawaz, the elder son of PM Nawaz Sharif appeared before the JIT. He was ‘grilled’ by FIA Additional Director General Wajid Zia for over two and half hours at the Federal Judicial Academy. Hussain Nawaz wanted to appear before the JIT in the presence of his lawyer but was not allowed as he has to seek permission from the court.
While the JIT’s pursuit seems noble and dedicated, the outside of the court has witnessed some mixed signals coming from the PML-N camp. At his arrival, Hussain Nawaz was granted a full protocol that enabled him to take his lawyer inside with him; whether he was allowed counsel is another matter. Not only that, with the media attention that was showered on him, he was able to depict a confident front. Later reports emerged of the JIT not furnishing him with the ‘detailed’ questionnaire, nor did they give him a list of documents to produce. The questionnaire for Hussain Nawaz included questions on the contradictions between his accounts in different interviews and what he had submitted in a sworn statement before the Supreme Court.
The PM’s son was accompanied by PML-N politicians who stayed outside the FJA and spoke briefly to the media on his behalf. According to State Minister for Information Maryam Aurangzeb, despite Hussain Nawaz’s objection to the inclusion of two members in the JIT, one an alleged PTI supporter and the other associated with former president retired Gen Pervez Musharraf, he still showed up respecting ‘constitutional institutions of the country’. It is a wonder why the State Minister for Information is presenting a case for the PM’s son in a case that involves the family, and not the party.
It is important to demarcate a clear boundary between party politics and dynastic politics; the country’s premier judicial institution has a huge responsibility in creating a clean and transparent verdict, which will affect the health of our burgeoning democracy. It is not only important for the ruling party to show some restrain in becoming explicitly involved with such a high profile case, it is also important for the country’s media to stop garnering every little detail air time that could be used by those involved in mustering unwarranted support and public opinion.
At a time when political parties should be highlighting issues concerning the social, economic, and political health of the country, it seems with all the attention, the most decisive issue of our time might remain the Panama Papers leak.