BY Shaheen Sehbai
The Dubious past of Pakistan’s third time Prime Minister, Mian Nawaz Sharif, has finally caught up with him on Friday, 28 July, as the country’s Supreme Court wrote a new chapter in the nation’s history.
It removed Sharif from office and has set his entire family to face trials for the billions of dollars that it has allegedly accumulated through wrong means over the last three decades when the Sharif family was in power.
Nawaz Sharif was disqualified, disgraced and banned for life by five judges, and at the same time, cases were reopened against him and his sons, daughter and extended family members including Finance Minister Ishaq Dar as well as many other cronies appointed in key positions.
Pakistan’s opposition leader, Imran Khan called it a “new Pakistan” and crowds celebrated in the streets.
Khan further called for a rally this Sunday as a thanksgiving. Small pro-Nawaz protests were reported, but the Karachi Stock Exchange burst into wild cheering and slogans as Sharif was toppled, almost one year before his term is over, and a new election is due.
The judgment, a stunning unanimous 5-vote verdict, came after a lengthy trial that span over a year, but it confirmed that both Sharif’s natural assets, luck and money, had turned against him.
Like many other world leaders, the leaked ‘Panama Papers’ claimed another high profile casualty as Sharif managed to run out of luck and committed one mistake after the other, which finally caught up with him and his government.
The five judges, all representing the highest court in Pakistan, found Sharif guilty of corruption, perjury and fraud, against the constitution. He was asked to justify his immense wealth and assets that are spread across the globe, but he failed to do so.
The Court also set into motion a mechanism to pursue the corruption cases against Sharif and his family and defanged the national accountability institution (NAB) by suspending its chairman and appointing a judge to supervise all those cases.
Sharif’s fall from power and grace could mean a period of uncertainty in Pakistan as his party struggles to stay united, while Nawaz tries to keep some of his hold by nominating a new prime minister.
Analysts thought it was an uphill and impossible task as he would no longer have any executive or even political authority to call the shots.
Renowned TV anchorman Amir Mateen said Nawaz had been caught cheating red handed and that the judges had broken the myth that Punjabi leaders enjoyed immunity.
Sharif’s downfall at the hands of the judicial system has been added to his two previous ousting by the army.
Twice in one decade, the impeached premier was removed, once in 1993 and the other in 1999, at the hands of former Army General Pervez Musharraf, who in 2007 allowed Sharif to return from exile and run the elections, and only because Saudi royalty insisted that he should be treated at par with former Premier Benazir Bhutto.
In 2008, Sharif took part in the elections but lost it to Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of Bhutto, who was capped on the general wave of sympathy that brought him to power after his wife Benazir was murdered.
Both Zardari and Nawaz joined hands afterwards to oust General Musharraf. A political truce and mutual accommodation allowed Nawaz to run the Punjab Province while Zardari ran Pakistan and Sindh provinces. Yet Nawaz never forgot to punish Musharraf.
When he won in 2013 and became PM for third time, he tried to settle old scores with Musharraf, instituting a treason case for his 1999 coup. That was his first big mistake which brought him in direct conflict with the Pakistan Army.
For Friday’s historical judgment, Pakistan’s Army stayed quietly on the sidelines but the Generals had assured all that the constitution and the law would be upheld and no street agitation and violence would be tolerated.
While his two previous sackings were primarily political power struggles and strategic in nature, this time his entire family has come under fierce judicial scrutiny, starting with the leakage of their assets’ details from the Panama papers and the gross mishandling by the Sharif family.
Among his many mistakes were his personal confessions and those of his family that they owned numerous properties and businesses outside Pakistan and that they had lied in court when they stated that they had proof and money trails to justify their accumulated wealth.
Also wrong was his attempt to pressurize and divide the judges.
Twice the apex court bench was disrupted between mid 2016 and April 2017 and the case had to start all over again, with new judges.
But this year, on April 20, a 470-page judicial conclusion was given, with two magistrates in favor of disqualifying Nawaz as guilty of corruption, versus three judges who demanded further facts and details through a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) formed under the court’s supervision. With such a split in decision, Sharif had in fact turned it into a divided court.
Political, public and media pressure, with the backing of the all-important military establishment, reunited the judges as the JIT did a marvelous job of collecting evidence.
“The Sharifs” did not expect such fast and meticulous spy work, and in the confusion, the Sharif family lost its bearings, changed advisers and lawyers and had no real strategy.
The investigators found much more than what they were looking for.
Some foreign governments, which Sharif was hoping may not cooperate with the JIT, gave additional incriminating details with documents on Sharif’s assets and properties.
At the same time, family members gave conflicting statements in testimony and the court which were not corroborated by facts or documents.
One smoking gun was found in the documents submitted to the JIT by the United Arab Emirates, and it was proof that Nawaz Sharif owned a hitherto undisclosed company in a Dubai’s Duty Free Zone and even had a work visa issued in his name along with a contract that allocated him a monthly salary. That specifically was termed in Monday’s (July 24), judgment as violation of his oath as a prime minister, and which helped impeach him.
Sharif made major miscalculations as he started his third term. When he became prime minister in 2013.
He had Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s model in mind in terms of reigning-in the military, and public establishments. He was determined to bring the “all powerful military” under a civilian control. He changed two army chiefs and tried to push his agenda, and launched a legal trial with accusations of treason against General Musharraf. However, he was met with a stiff institutional resistance, and his dream of becoming a Pakistani Tayyip Erdogan was never materialized.
When Nawaz picked General Raheel Shareef to replace (Army Chief) General Kayani in November 2013, he thought that Raheel would not obstruct the agenda of negotiating with the Taliban and opening up trade and commerce with India.
Raheel resisted and tensions prevailed throughout the 3-year term of Raheel, who built a hugely popular public profile by defeating Taliban and reducing the frequency of terrorist attacks and terrorism in general in the country. That move also backfired on Nawaz Sharif.
Mishandling the judiciary was another mistake. The past history of Sharif vis-a-vis higher judiciary was not so inspiring. He had been accused of bribing magistrates and using his executive power to solicit favorable decisions.
This time when push came to shove, Sharif’s bag of tricks did not produce the desired results. In the Panama case judges went strictly by the law and the book.
In the past Nawaz Sharif had dependable friends in foreign capitals, specially the Arab world.
The Saudi royal family was his host for eight years when General Musharraf had exiled him.
The rulers of Qatar and other Gulf states were also friendly.
Yet somehow, with the change in the U.S. leadership and the rise of President Donald Trump to power, the Saudis appeared to have distanced themselves from the Sharif family.
When Panama-leaks started to become menacing and threatening, attempts were made by the Sharifs to mend the fences or achieve some sort of a conciliation with the military, but neither their assumed foreign friends nor Pakistan’s Army were interested, and Sharif was left to deal with defiant and upright judges.
The army repeatedly denied it was taking sides, adding it would defend the system and that the law must takes its course.
Nawaz Sharif’s political career finally seemed to end in disgrace with his family’s wealth and political power facing a long period of accountability.
His rival Imran Khan may also face a similar fate because of his earnings as a cricketer in London and his ownership of a flat in the British capital.
Though both cases are not similar and nowhere close to be comparable with one another, yet politics and establishments, both security and judicial, work in their own ways.
With Nawaz now sacked and Imran on the verge of possible accountability, the country may be in for an “across the board” period of political cleansing up… And Zardari may not be far behind to face the music.