Sharif had been stymieing every effort by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan to oust him.
In an unprecedented verdict on July 28, Pakistan’s Supreme Court disqualified Prime Minister Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif for life. The possibility of this being a master-stroke engineered by Pak army cannot be ruled out. Either way, Sharif’s downfall only raises the possibility of Pakistan’s military and mullahs stepping up their anti-India operations.
Former Army Chief and member of Parliament General Shankar Roychowdhury’s comment to this newspaper is noteworthy: “Whether we acknowledge it or not, there were some vibes between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sharif. But then he also was the mouthpiece of Pakistan’s military and terrorists, both of who will be more active than so far. And the likes of Hafiz Sayeed will most probably be more powerful.”
Following a joint investigation team’s (JIT) findings of Sharif’s wealth being far above his earnings in the Panama Papers case, in an unanimous decision, the judges ruled that the Prime Minister had been dishonest to the Parliament and could not be deemed fit to hold office. Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, heading the implementation bench, said all material collected by the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) would be sent to an accountability court within six weeks. He said cases should be opened against Sharif’s daughter Maryam Nawaz, her husband Captain Muhammad Safdar, Sharif’s sons, Hassan and Hussain and Sharif himself and that a judgment should be announced within 30 days.
The Panama Papers are an unprecedented leak of 11.5 million files in 2016, from the database of the world’s fourth biggest offshore law firm, Mossack Fonseca. The records were obtained from an anonymous source by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which in turn shared them with a large network of international partners. The documents reveal how in various ways the rich and powerful can exploit secretive offshore tax regimes. Twelve national leaders are among 143 politicians, their families and close associates from around the world, who are known to have been using offshore tax havens. Among national leaders with offshore wealth are Pakistan’s prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
The high-profile scandal is about alleged money laundering by Sharif in 1990s, during his London two tenures as prime minister, to purchase assets in UK, which include four expensive flats in Park Lane, London.
The assets surfaced when Panama Papers leak last year revealed that they were managed through offshore companies owned by three of Sharif’s children. The assets include four expensive flats in London, not shown in his family’s wealth statement.
Following petitions filed by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Awami Muslim League and Jamaat-e-Islami, in October 2016, the six-member JIT was set up by Pakistan’s Supreme Court in May 2017, with the mandate to probe the Sharif family for allegedly failing to provide the trail of money used to buy properties in London in 1990s. Investigating the charges against Sharif and his family, the JIT submitted its report to the court stating that the lifestyles of Sharif and his children were beyond their known sources of income, and recommended filing of a new corruption case against them. Sharif dismissed the report as a “bundle of baseless allegations” and refused to quit, despite demands to do so from several quarters, including opposition political parties. The apex court, which concluded hearing the case on 21 July 2017, reserved its verdict then, its decision to issue the verdict on 28 July 2017 indeed came as a surprise for many.
Sharif had been stymieing every effort by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan to oust him. According to Pakistani media, while Sharif’s party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, achieved next to nothing in crucial aspects like health, education, security and every other vital sector of Pakistan, Sharif shrewdly undertook development measures such as the Metro Bus scheme or construction of motorways to fool the public into thinking that such measures will raise their standard of living. “That is the politics that works in Pakistan and Mr Sharif is an expert player at that”, said one news report. According to thenews.com.pk, Sharif’s claim of defeating terrorism and reducing militancy would have had more credence had his government introduced police reforms, conducted the population census on its own initiative, cracked down on militants at large in Punjab and expunged extremism from educational institutes and also madrassas.
Former Naval Chief Admiral Arun Prakash’s comment to this newspaper is also significant: “This may well have been arranged by Pak army, for whom the field is now open… Pak army may place Imran Khan or even someone weaker than him… the façade for Pak Army is off now.”
While the Panama Leaks case verdict may be a landmark decision in Pakistan’s history and may have a resounding impact on Pakistan’s politics, by no stretch of imagination can there be any positive changes expected in Pakistan’s foreign policy towards India or any positive change in Pakistan. No change should be expected whatsoever in the status or standing of Pak army and its intelligence agency within Pakistan or Pak military’s India policy. No matter who replaces Sharif, there can be no change expected in the policy of the government towards Pakistan’s various terrorist organisations and their leaders. If Sharif’s arch-rival former cricketer Imran Khan is going to be the next Prime Minister, he is already known as being close to the military establishment. By that inference itself he cannot distance himself from the terrorist leaders. As it is, Imran and his party are reported to have been seen with terrorist organisation/leaders on the same dais/ events. When the roosts of the military and the mullahs cannot be expected to be shaken, what other changes can the world expect to come about in Pakistan?
Pakistan’s policies towards Afghanistan and Bangladesh, where its terror has been for long exported, will very likely be status quo, if not more. And as far as China is concerned, it will ensure that its interests in Pakistan are not affected.
As such, the quad erat demonstrandum can only be expected to be business as usual, if not “better”. India, needless to stress, must maintain its guard and keep its powder dry. With even more pressure by Pakistan expected along and across the Line of Control, the International Boundary and Kashmir Valley’s hinterland, New Delhi must maintain the momentum of nabbing separatists and their networkers, as well as relentless proactive use of social media.
The writer, a retired Army officer, is a defence and security analyst based in New Delhi.