Though the verdict on the much-awaited Panama Papers case is out, the jury is still out on which side emerged victorious. Both the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) celebrated after the order was read by the five-member bench headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa. The dissenting notes from the two senior-most judges on the bench suggested that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was no longer honest and truthful and therefore, he must step down. But the remaining three judges, who were in the majority, ruled in favor of establishing a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to look into the matter further.

While Sharif will stay in office, for the time being, the PTI may have managed to inflict damage on his and his party’s political ambitions.

PTI’s Objectives versus Outcome

The PTI’s main objective was to oust PM Sharif. The party also wanted to incriminate Maryam Nawaz, the prime minister’s daughter, and disqualify her husband Captain Safdar as well as Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, also a relative of Sharif, from holding public office. In its petition, the PTI had requested that Sharif and his relatives be placed on the Exit Control List (ECL) and that the heads of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and the Federal Bureau of Revenue (FBR) start a probe against the premier and his family for their role in the Panama Papers scandal.

For the time being, the PTI has failed in its main objective—removing Sharif from office. The party also did not press the court hard enough on Captain Safdar and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar’s disqualification. Regarding placing the ruling family on the ECL and the NAB-FBR probe, the PTI only achieved limited success. The court neither issued a directive to place Sharif and his family on the ECL nor did it order the NAB or FBR to investigate the matter. But it did order the NAB chairman to nominate a representative to participate in the JIT.

However, the PTI may have succeeded in its takedown of Maryam Sharif. Though she was given a clean chit by the court, the case will likely take a toll on her politically. She plans to contest elections in 2018 and despite the court clearing her name, her association with the Panama Papers controversy is sure to haunt her. Pakistan has seen many politicians cleared of wrong-doing in corruption cases but that has done little to change the public’s perception of their guilt. For instance, former President Asif Ali Zardari was cleared by the courts, but he is still known as Mr. 10 Percent, a name given to him for allegedly taking 10 percent kickbacks on government procurement deals. Maryam may have been cleared legally but politically, she has been exposed.

PML-N’s Losses

Despite the PTI’s failure to achieve most of its objectives, the PML-N still has much to worry about in the aftermath of the Panama Papers verdict. The possibility of the prime minister’s disqualification looms large as the JIT starts its investigation. The PML-N will also have to bear the political cost of the dissenting notes by the two senior-most judges of the Supreme Court, either of who may be the Chief Justice of Pakistan someday.

During the proceedings, the ruling family was of the view that the burden of proof lay with the prosecution. However, with the JIT investigation and the clear-cut instructions laid out in the order, the burden of proof of innocence has shifted to the ruling family.

Concluding Thoughts

The PML-N had a chance to end the controversy by sharing the details of their businesses with the court, which they did not do. Now the issue will linger and may only be settled by the time elections are around the corner. This is sure to negatively impact the PML-N’s electoral campaign.


Image: Rizwan Tabassum-AFP, Getty

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