Nawaz Sharif is third time unlucky to have to abandon his term as the democratically elected Prime Minister of Pakistan.
With the Supreme Court disqualifying him over the corruption cases for ten years, sixty-seven-year-old Sharif’s premiership comes to end one year before his term expires.
It also potentially means the termination of an eventful political career.
In a landmark judgement, the apex court of the Islamic Republic found the Pakistani leader and his close family members guilty of having properties well beyond their known sources of income.
The controversy erupted last year with the publication of 11.5 million secret documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca documenting the offshore dealings of many of the world´s rich and powerful.
Three of Sharif´s four children — Maryam, his presumptive political heir, and his sons Hasan and Hussein — were implicated in the papers.
At the heart of the case is the legitimacy of the funds used by the Sharif family to purchase several high-end London properties via offshore companies.
The PML-N insists the wealth was acquired legally, through Sharif family businesses in Pakistan and the Gulf.
The five judge bench verdict comes after the a Joint Investigation Team (SIT) probing the charges against the Sharif family submitted its report to the highest court.
The JIT was formed in mid-April this year after a five judge court gave a split verdict on the culpability of the Sharif family.
In order to reach the roots of the allegations, the JIT was given a mandate to probe the family further and assess whether the Pakistani leader has been really guilty of hiding wealth from the larger public.
Unlike the split verdict in April, the apex court judges spoke in one voice on Friday and took an unprecedented decision of disqualifying the sitting Prime Minister.
Sharif is not the first PM to get the boot from the highest judiciary. Yousaf Raza Gilani was also disqualified in 2012 on the charges of contempt of court when he failed to open the corruption cases against then president Asif Ali Zardari.
Nawaz Sharif’s rival Pakistan’s People’s Party (PPP) has a long history of tiff with the judiciary. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was sentenced to death in 70s over political allegations. Gilani and Raza Pervaiz Ashraf also belonged to the PPP.
This is for the first time Sharif’s own Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) or PML(N) has come under the judicial hammer.
If the verdict stands as it is it means that the whole Sharif family will be debarred from public life.
IMPLICATIONS FOR PAKISTAN
The decision injects political instability in the country where democratic institutions has always been weak.
The Islamic republic was looking for a smooth democratic transition next year after the elections, but the sacking of the PM destabilizes the political equilibrium. The PML(N) will nominate a replacement for Sharif but how long the arrangement will continue remains to be seen.
Secondly, the army, the perennial deep state in Pakistan, becomes all the more assertive and assumes higher moral ground.
Most of the politically elected leaders forced to abandon power in Pakistan in the past have been sacked by the army chief on grounds of corruption, and the present case puts the military at the higher moral pedestal.
Thirdly, the questions are being raised about the biases that judiciary nurtures against the political class.
There are people who are asking why is that only politicians become the fall guys, why not members of other institutions – the army and the judiciary – who also face grave corruption charges.
Fourthly, with country now in the grip of political instability, the economy, which has been looking up in the last couple of years, is likely to suffer again.
On the face of it it looks highly possible that Imran Khan-led Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) will try to capitalize on the political chaos that Pakistan is in now.
Khan’s party has been in the forefront in demanding a probe against Sharif and there is a good chance that he might get a chance to form the government next year when the elections are held.
The PPP, the traditional rival of the PML (N) has been lagging in the perception battle vis a vis PTI. But it’s early to say whether Pakistan is really ready to have Khan as its political captain.
Pakistan is a frontline state, both in the fight against Islamist terror groups as well as in the supporting such terror networks.
Political instability affects both efforts. In the absence of a strong and seasoned leader, like Sharif, its relationship with India suffers.
He was a strong votary of strong economic ties with India, though it never materialized due to lack of political initiatives from Delhi, the intent was always there.
In his absence it would be tough for any new leader to think out of box. Sharif’s replacement will not have the same political legitimacy and voice as the old one.
The apex court’s verdict can also have reverberations in India, where too many leaders face corruption charges. It may have an impact on the way the courts approach such high profile cases.
Whatever said and done, democracy remains jinxed in Pakistan.
Just as democratic forces seemed to be consolidating, a blow from the judiciary has served to remind them of the challenges they face in the republic.