The Supreme Court of Pakistan shook the country to its core with a landmark judgement on the Panamagate Case. By deeming Nawaz Sharif unworthy of holding the office of the Prime Minister, on account of the Article 62/63 requiring the head of the state to be ‘sadiq’ and ‘ameen’. Article 62/63 were invoked on the basis of the non-disclosure of FZE Capital. While it may have served the country in the sense that for the first time in its 70 odd years history a man of means and wielding great power was held accountable, it has nevertheless left us with perplexing questions and a dangerous precedent. The leader of the most popular political party was ousted on the basis of non-disclosure of assets along with a case of ‘living beyond means’. But holding him on trial or his family, for economic corruption perhaps does not fall in the ambit of the SC, but rather the ball should have been passed onto the National Accountability Bureau. As was done, but with a ‘controversial’ judgment by SC to prematurely relieve the PM of his position without the economic corruption having yet been proved. This is the work of NAB, and hopefully will be done in due course. By dismissing the PM, questions have also emerged over the selective accountability. While the Opposition’s icon Imran Khan has also been summoned by the court over non-declaration and could be dealt the same treatment, the question persists: will this accountability be extended to other institutions? Another equally important aspect up for debate is whether Articles 62/63 should have been invoked at all, given their generic meaning and loose interpretation, and their inherent potential to be used for dismissing almost anyone in the echelons of power?
It appears that the trends that emerged from JIT’s investigation showing a great disparity between the earnings and lifestyle of the Sharifs convinced the SC to subject them to punishment. Along with this, the apparent political linkages of NAB are seen as hindrances in conducting impartial prosecution on charges of economic corruption. For NAB has disappointed before in this regard, and compromised the institution’s credibility. While it is agreeable that institutions need to be strengthened to tackle the misuse of power, but the appropriate execution when using that strength determines the fate of judgments. There is no denying that democracies are often made and lost in the legal corridors. As famously stated by John Quincy Adams Jr. in the American Supreme Court on abolition of slavery, fraught with the danger of a possible civil war that did come about, “Give us the courage to do what is right. And if it means civil war, then let it come. And when it does, may it be, finally, the last battle of the American Revolution”. Consequences should not unsettle the course of righteousness or justice; but weak judgements evoking articles of the constitution that possibly need to be reviewed, setting dangerous precedents, and engendering selective accountability should not be the way forward.