Supreme Court Ousts Pakistan's Prime Minister
By Vrinda Gupta | August 2, 2017
Throughout Pakistan’s rather turbulent political history, not a single Prime Minister has completed a full five-year term. With only one year left in office, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was on his way to break this spell before he stepped down on July 28. His position was being contested in the highest court in the land for months when the Supreme Court ruling disqualified him from office. Assets held by the Sharif family, brought to light by the Panama Papers, were under scrutiny for possible ownership by illegal means. The leader of the opposition, former cricketer Imran Khan led street protests to ensure that the case was taken to the Supreme Court when the Papers were leaked in 2016.
The law firm’s leaked documents adversely affected numerous elitists and highly ranked politicians around the world by revealing secret assets and accounts used to manage their not so legal wealth. Although the Papers did not name Sharif himself, they did name his two sons and daughter, who own exorbitant properties in London through offshore companies. Pressured by time and the opposition parties, the court appointed an investigative team to further look into the allegations in April. The Joint Investigation Team reported on July 10 that the family is hiding their assets and living beyond their means, perhaps alluding to the usage of taxpayer money to acquire the London apartments. Nawaz Sharif denied the accusations and called the entire report a lie.
Maryam Nawaz Sharif, daughter of the former Prime Minister, was widely presumed to be his political heir and therefore was particularly damaged by the public outcry and the damning report. Last November she took to Twitter to post images of documents showing that she was not the owner of any such properties. The Joint Investigation Team looked a little closer and found that the documents, dated 2006, were typed using the font Calibri. Unfortunately for Maryam Sharif, the font was not commercially available until January 31, 2007. Additionally, the documents were notarized from a London office on Saturday, which is officially not a working day.
The Joint Investigation Team thus added to their conclusions, perjury and forgery by the Sharif family, and recommended to the Supreme Court that corruption cases be filed against Nawaz Sharif and his children. Sharif’s government said that it will challenge the report and its clauses in court, even though at the time of the Joint Investigation Team formation, the incumbent pledged to step down if the investigation showed any corruption.
As calls for his resignation grew in more and more prominence, Nawaz Sharif was left with only of two potential paths to take.. He could either step down gracefully, thus cutting off the head of a rising political dynasty, or choose to remain in office and await further consequences. Even the military in Pakistan posed a threat to the Pakistani politician, having successfully overthrown the government three times. Administrative vacuums, much like the one that is created by Nawaz Sharif's abdication, increase the likelihood of these army coups. Many of Pakistan’s allies, including regional power China, have expressed disdain for the country’s habit of military takeovers. Ties with India, its neighbor, are particularly unstable and a change of regime could mean danger for the Line of Control between the two nations.
The Supreme Court convened on July 17, hearing accusations of money laundering, forgery, and corruption. The court remained unsatisfied with Nawaz Sharif’s incomplete evidence of a legal money trail for the properties and ultimately decided to open a criminal investigation against the Sharif family, including against his daughter and heir Maryam Sharif. Although a hard fall for a family that was dominating the political stage for more than three decades, neither Nawaz Sharif nor his children are expected to stay away from public eye for too long.