By C Uday Bhaskar*
The Pakistan Supreme Court decision, announced on July 28, to disqualify Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from holding office should not come as a surprise, given the kind of evidence that had come into the public domain about the disproportionate assets acquired by the Sharif family through off-shore companies.
These charges of financial irregularities were first revealed in the Panama Papers and an investigative team had been constituted by the Pakistani courts to pursue the matter, which finally culminated in the Friday verdict.
This decision will have a significant impact on the domestic politics of Pakistan, the future of the PML (N) as a major party, the fortunes of the Sharif family as a major political actor; and finally the political career of Nawaz Sharif.
Proceeding in reverse order – it is evident that PM Nawaz Sharif’s active political career has hit a legal hurdle and he will now have to appear before the courts to face the many charges that will now be pressed against him – and his immediate family. The Nawaz Sharif trajectory has been chequered, in that while he has been a major actor in the post Cold war politics of Pakistan – and this is his third stint as PM – he has never been able to complete his term in an undisturbed manner. It maybe recalled that in 1999, he was ousted in a military coup by then Army Chief General Pervez Musharraf.
The discredited Sharif family will be in a close huddle now to see how best to consolidate their political position first in Punjab – their traditional base – and subsequently in other parts of the country, even as Pakistan prepares for the next election in 2018. Given that the political heir to Nawaz Sharif , his daughter Maryam has also been indicted in the Friday verdict, it appears that the leadership role within the family may devolve upon the brother Shabaz Sharif the Chief Minister of the Punjab province.
But whether this will seamless transition from one Sharif to the other be meekly accepted by the rest of the PML(N) as a party preparing for the next election is moot.
As regards the domestic politics of Pakistan, for now cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan will be jubilant for having been vindicated by the Supreme Court. He had led the charge against Sharif ever since the Panama Papers scandal came into the public domain.
But for the long term, the removal of Sharif by the highest court in Pakistan and the assassination of his arch rival – former PM Benazir Bhutto – has left a huge vacuum in the domestic political arena of a polity that has been trying to come out of the clutches of a dominant military which has been in the driver’s seat for decades.
While the Friday court decision may not have been a surprise, the future orientation of Pakistan remains very uncertain.
*C Uday Bhaskar can be contacted [email protected]