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Panama Papers

Nawaz Sharif’s exit shows generals are no longer calling the shots as Pakistan battles corruption

Syed Fazl-e-Haider says the Pakistani prime minister’s ouster following a Supreme Court ruling is a step forward for the rule of law in a nation where power and corruption often go hand in hand

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 August, 2017, 1:22pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 August, 2017, 7:26pm

Prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s lifetime disqualification from holding any public office, by Pakistan’s top court over corruption charges, is being widely hailed as a great step forward for the rule of law in the country.

The case against Sharif and his family came after they were implicated in the Panama Papers leaks last year that revealed the offshore financial secrets of many of the world’s richest and most powerful people. After 10 months of court proceedings, the five-member bench of the Supreme Court on Friday unanimously declared Sharif unfit to hold office.

In the past, it was Pakistan’s powerful military that had dismissed civilian governments, mainly over corruption. It is not the generals but the judges who are calling the shots in Pakistan today. The effective ouster of Sharif by the court was within the constitutional framework. Its judgment endorses the argument that a powerful judiciary can shut the door to military intervention and pave the way for a smooth running of the democratic system in Pakistan.

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A host of financial scams and scandals involving billions of rupees and corrupt authorities have come to the surface over the last nine years of democratic regimes. The ruling elite are not ready to give up their luxuries and status in a country where up to 40 per cent of a populace of 200 million live below the poverty line.

The elected parliament has the majority of corrupt tax evaders and loan defaulters, who have come together to defend the system that virtually provides them a shield against accountability.

The two mainstream political parties, the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the Pakistan People’s Party, both enjoyed power three times each since 1988. They became political martyrs when their elected governments were removed by the military before the completion of their five-year terms.

In the 2013 elections, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, led by former cricket star Imran Khan, emerged as the third major political force and the second largest vote catcher. Khan’s party played a major role in taking the Panama case against Sharif to the Supreme Court and is likely to gain major mileage in next year’s polls.

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There is a dire need for a transparent and ruthless accountability across the board to cleanse the politics of Pakistan. The Supreme Court ruling is the beginning. To put the most powerful man in politics on trial for corruption certainly indicates a new Pakistan. This is a great step toward the establishment of rule of law in a country that has broken records in corruption under civilian governments.

Syed Fazl-e-Haider (www.syedfazlehaider.com) is a contributing analyst at the South Asia desk of Wikistrat. He is a freelance columnist and author