Last November, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) called off a threatened “lockdown” of Islamabad after the Supreme Court agreed to launch an inquiry into the corruption allegations against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. In its bid to mediate, the court stepped into the middle of a political scuffle that many thought would further polarize the country and spell trouble for a judiciary trying hard to be evenhanded after the excesses of the Iftikhar Chaudhry court. Politically motivated cases also tend to backfire on judges in Pakistan; the Panama Papers case appeared set to yield similar results.
On April 20, 2017, a divided verdict revealed three judges of a five-member bench stopped short of dismissing Sharif outright. The ruling goes on, however, to demand further investigation into the conduct of the prime minister through a Joint Investigative Team (JIT). If the JIT finds further evidence proving the prime minister’s guilt, says the judgment, he could be still be ousted from office. Despite this, Sharif’s PMLN is celebrating the ruling as a vindication of their leader even as the opposition PTI claims it as a personal victory. The kibitzer Pakistan Peoples Party has sought to further radicalize the ambiance by condemning the verdict outright. All opposition parties are demanding Sharif resign while the JIT probes his family’s finances, because they claim that state institutions can be subject to manipulation by the prime minister. As a sop, the court ruling includes a required makeup of the JIT, which includes two Army institutions. Is it the judiciary’s desire to use these institutions as a barrier against being perceived as “pro-Sharif”?
It is well known that the Army doesn’t care much for Sharif’s on-again-off-again “trade” flirtation with neighboring India. Judging from retired military officials who are regular fixtures on local talk shows, the Army has a fixed strategy on India and despises Sharif’s desire to seek peace. If, as the opposition claims, state institutions can be subordinate to the prime minister, their abject deference to the Army is just as relevant.
The PMLN should take note: the trial and tribulations of Nawaz Sharif aren’t over just yet.