Panama Judgement
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Salman Hassan |

The Supreme Court’s ruling is out. The five- member bench, citing moral grounds, has found Mr. Nawaz Sharif to be unfit to continue his position as Prime Minister.

The decision, announced last Friday, stated that Mr. Sharif – having failed to disclose his stakes in Capital FZE, a Dubai based company of which he was purported, chairman – did not meet the conditions laid out under article 62 of Constitution of Pakistan which calls for the candidate to have untainted moral character and tidy past in order to make him, or her, eligible to hold public office.

Upon going through court’s judgment, the copies of which have been making rounds on media, it becomes clear that the raison-de-etre for Mr. Nawaz Sharif unseating hasn’t been corruption per se, instead, it’s his failure at revealing full-spectrum of his personal assets during his nomination for 2013 general elections.

It’s slated to set the tone for future political discourse which is why it is critical that parties involved in it ensure the process goes on without interruption and remains impartial and unsparing in character.

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In the emotionally charged atmosphere after Friday’s verdict, the voices of objective caution, or those that aren’t in sync with the gleeful mood in streets, have found little appreciation or space. In public spheres, hopes are high that this decision will usher in an era of accountability and discipline, one that will rule out future wrongdoings by the decried tiny elite which allows the power to be juggled only within its rung.

For dispassionate observers though, there remain few details surrounding these developments that can’t simply be overlooked. A set of questions that, ideally, should have been thought through prior to the proverbial releasing of ‘accountability genie’ from the bottle.

Firstly, it’s worth debating whether the tumult generated by leaks, that marked an important milestone at Friday’s decision will either discourage future money-launderers, tax-evaders, and financial absconders from siphoning money the way they’ve hitherto done or will it simply make them more vigilant and methodical? With the lessons from Panama now out in the open, wouldn’t habitual criminals simply adapt to the new, more stringent, measures of accountability, evolve to become a smarter version of themselves, and simply find new ways of escaping detection?

Then there’s the matter of scope. It would be reasonable to assert that the nation would like to see all wrongdoers be brought to the books.

Read more: Morality and misplaced loyalty

There’s a strong argument to be made that moral nails, like financial corruption, can be traced right to its origins in the basic human attitudes; that they’re a product of the collective environment one was exposed to, and the values he was raised with.

If this stance is to be believed, it leads to conclusion that capping them, or removing them altogether, would require a bottoms-up approach, unlike the top-down one that starts with the head of state because doing so will only replace one criminal with another, likely more meticulous one, that is better at covering his tracks.

But that’s the psychological aspect of the matter at hand. And we can’t get hung up on these, more basic, and glaringly obvious realities, can we? It’s simply too inconvenient to delve to the bottom of it all because doing so holds a mirror to our collective face as a society and forces us to confront our festering moral crisis – besides clashing with our tendency to look for quick-fixes to all problems, no matter how fundamental in nature they may be.

In any case, saying that accountability from the top is unfruitful because it does not address the root cause, may not be too convincing an argument after all – simply because, the alternate view, that says that one has to start somewhere, and that, no matter how elementary, this verdict represents a step in the right direction, appears more solid.

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But in the interest of fairness, let’s get something straight before we proceed any further. The prime minister does have a murky past and his family has more than a few skeletons in their closets. It’s a fact made abundantly clear by JIT’s detailed findings.

Similarly, it’s fair to argue that should the existing batch of politicians be measured with a same moral yardstick as Mr. Prime Minister, hardly anyone would come out eligible.

The question, that needs to be thought over now, is whether the benefits acquired through Prime Minister’s disqualification outweigh the cons? It’s a question that demands careful analysis.

Holding someone to such rigid parameters of moral character such as those laid out in article 62 and 63, while ruthlessly effective, can also have the side-effect of setting a dangerous precedent of ousting elected representatives, in a country that has been chronically plagued by political and economic instability, and frequent military take-overs.

It begs the question that at this junction in particular – when a country finally seems to have started making progress in terms of economy and security after years of turmoil – is jeopardizing country’s overall stability by sending an elected official packing worth the risk it carries? How does the wisdom of disqualification fare when viewed against the backdrop of greater-good?

Read more: Open defiance of the apex court

So, to speak with the bigger picture in mind, it’s critical to underline that those leading the accountability crusade must ensure that the gains from this campaign do not come at the cost of democratic continuity or material progress. If these objectives of foremost value can’t be secured, then maybe it’s time to pause, reevaluate the sense in speeding forward, and perform a cost-benefit analysis of the whole matter.

Similarly, it’s fair to argue that should the existing batch of politicians be measured with a same moral yardstick as Mr. Prime Minister, hardly anyone would come out eligible.

Similarly, it’s fair to argue that should the existing batch of politicians be measured with a same moral yardstick as Mr. Prime Minister, hardly anyone would come out eligible. Not least of all, Mr. Imran Khan, the key figure leading the charge against misappropriation, whose name, ironically, appeared in Panama Papers along with those of Mr. Sharif’s family members for owning off-shore companies.

Mr. Khan is further accused of not having declared the complete-range of his assets for nomination in 2013 election, a charge that could land him in the same predicament as Mr. Sharif. Now, given these realities, it’s perhaps more sensible to view the situation, not in terms of ‘kicking Prime Minister out because he’s corrupt’, but who’s the lesser of all evils; who among the equally guilty lot would serve the country best?

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Another, crucially important aspect of Friday’s verdict to think about is the wisdom and long-term effects of disqualifying a sitting Prime Minister over his failure to meet what is essentially a very vague, variedly-interpretable, and politically exploitable technicality of being spotlessly honest.

The irony of this political opportunism isn’t lost on those following court proceedings closely.

It is worth mentioning here that, only a couple of days ago, Naeem Bukhari, Mr. Imran Khan’s attorney, while arguing before the Supreme Court in a suit pertaining to his client’s disqualification from National Assembly, insisted that article 62 of the Constitution should not be used as a disqualification tool, while pushing for Mr. Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification in the more widely-covered Panama Papers Case on the same grounds in the same court in parallel. The irony of this political opportunism isn’t lost on those following court proceedings closely.

Also, holding the current cadre of politicians accountable to such rigid standards of ethics would open the door to bogging future office-holders down in stretched-out court-battles, something which is bound to take any executive’s focus off more vital issues of national importance and hamstring its functioning – an outcome no country besieged with so many challenges, least of all Pakistan, can afford to face.

Read more: Imran Khan’s life of lies & cheats exposed finally: GVS Special…

Selective Accountability

Then there’s the matter of scope. It would be reasonable to assert that the nation would like to see all wrongdoers be brought to the books. This is why it’s worth pointing out that there has so far been a clear lack of an all-inclusive scheme that ensures across the board accountability, overarching the key state pillars that are legislative, executive, judiciary and armed forces.

For dispassionate observers though, there remain few details surrounding these developments that can’t simply be overlooked.  

Likewise, it’s also worth noting that the crucial fact that unless this process is universal, it’ll never be free of the perception that it is political in nature, and will continue to be seen as secretly personal and geared specifically at singling out and dethroning Mr. Sharif.

Read more: The dusk of Nawaz Sharif era

The role of Supreme Court, in this regard, will be looked up to by many. It would be expected, and rightly so, of the apex court to make sure the process does not end with Prime Minister and that it takes on those that have so far escaped trial by either leveraging their powerful positions, connections, or simply using clever cover-up methods. This includes figures in the ranks of PTI, including the party chairman Imran Khan himself.

The impact of Panama Leaks verdict on Pakistan’s politics can’t be overemphasized. It’s slated to set the tone for future political discourse which is why it is critical that parties involved in it ensure the process goes on without interruption and remains impartial and unsparing in character. Also, it’s important to remember that while the removal of Mr. Sharif may have been the ethically right thing to do, it certainly isn’t a magical fix to all of the nation’s problems.

Salman Hassan is a NUST Mechanical Engineering alumnus with an interest in Strategic Studies, International Affairs, and Domestic Politics. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect GVS editorial policy.

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