Almost coincidental to the submission of the Joint Investigation Team’s report to the Supreme Court on the alleged involvement of the Sharif family in money laundering, the military top brass met at the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi. It was a regular corps commanders’ conference in which the participants must have discussed the expected results of the JIT’s findings. According to the ISPR, the conference “reiterated to continue supporting and enabling to play positive role in line with Pakistan’s national interests.” Since there is an inescapable national security dimension to the legal outcome of the Panama Papers case, the military leadership of the country is duly concerned as to how it plays out through various stages. When the Supreme Court decided to set up the Joint Investigation Team, the corps commanders had pledged that the institution, through its members in the JIT, “shall play its due role in a legal and transparent manner fulfilling confidence reposed by the apex court of Pakistan.” Of the six members of the Joint Investigation Team two represented the armed forces, one from Military Intelligence (MI) and the other from the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate. There are rising tempers on both sides of the national political divide with regard to the JIT’s findings. And now when the case is before the apex court those hot tempers can further flare up and thus subvert national security, a risk all the more critical because of the serious developments on the national frontiers these days. Rightly, then, the corps commanders have warned, albeit indirectly, against moves and actions by the proponents and antagonists of findings of the JIT. Perhaps too much annoyance, or the jubilation, over the JIT findings now on display needs to be tempered. For the findings to be correct they have to pass the test of examination and cross-examination in a court of law. That the Sharifs are guilty of money laundering and such other misdeeds, that is for the prosecution to establish beyond the shadow of doubt. So far, they could be described as innocent, despite this very damning report by the Joint Investigation Team.
In Pakistan’s legal history, the trial of a sitting prime minister and his family on charges of money laundering and stashing the ill-gotten wealth offshore is the first and most unique case in many ways. Not that they were the only whose names appeared in the Panama Papers, there are quite a few other Pakistanis on the list as well. In this regard, there are a few other challenges too. So, as to how the Supreme Court would handle their case as made out by the Joint Investigation Team is a matter of contentious debate among informed circles. Therefore, there are differing opinions on whether this report is good enough to disqualify Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as violator of Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution. While some think he is or others could, say that the JIT report cannot be treated as a piece of evidence in the case against him. The prime minister’s political allies hold the view that instead of finding answers to the 13 questions it was directed to do by the Supreme Court, the JIT acted as a “trial court” with a “political agenda.” Of course, if convicted, Nawaz Sharif would stand disqualified. If not, will he stand disqualified consequent to the findings of the Joint Investigation Team? There is the opinion, and a strong one, that a person cannot be convicted unless evidence is recorded and cross-examined in a court of law. But, then, what to do with the confusion surrounding the applicability of Article 62 (f) under which a person shall be elected member of parliament only if he is “saadiq and ameen,” when there is no provision to indicate as to how, and in whose opinion. There is also a discussion if the three-judge team which set up the JIT would hear the case or some other forum or bench would. All in all, only half the journey has been done and the rest of it yet to be traversed. This is certainly challenging and the only option is that whatever the constraints of time and resources and however strong the opposing winds, the verdict must be strictly and uncompromisingly in line with the law of the land, and of justice.