Pakistan’s judiciary and the trial of Nawaz Sharif

Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi
Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi
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The trial of Muhammad Nawaz Sharif and the verdict to disqualify him from holding public office as Pakistan’s prime minister have sparked controversy in various circles. There are some people who welcomed the court’s landmark ruling. They are of the view that this was a significant step in securing justice and fighting corruption in the higher echelons of government. Those who expressed joy over this verdict, which forced the head of the country’s executive to quit the post after his election as prime minister for a third time, considered that it was in line with the theory of the late Singaporean leader Lee Kuan Yew, who believed that fighting corruption is just like cleaning staircases and as such that it should start from the top to the bottom.

However, there are others who see this verdict as one that is doubtful, lacking in clarity and seeming more like a desire for revenge. This was obvious from remarks made by a judge of Pakistan’s Supreme Court suggesting that Sharif and his family were like members of the mafia as depicted in the famous American film The Godfather. I do not know whether this judge was accurate in making a comparison between the mafia and a prime minister who was elected three times by the people of Pakistan. However, it is a fact that Sharif is very popular, whether we agree with him or not.

The name of Nawaz Sharif did not figure in what was known as the Panama Papers leak, but it was said that the names of his sons and the names of other Pakistanis appeared in the leaks, and that it was his political opponents, who were unable to defeat him through the ballot box who lodged the lawsuit against him. After their election debacle, these opponents made attempts to overthrow him by organizing demonstrations on the pretext that the elections were rigged, but they were unable to do so. Eventually, they reportedly attempted to use their proximity to the military establishment, which ruled Pakistan for nearly half of the country’s history.

In most cases, the military establishment is allied with judicial authorities not only in Pakistan, but also in other parts of the world. However, the trend of military coups has subsided as a result of their failure in governance all around the world whether in Latin America, the Middle East, Asia or even Europe.

The Supreme Court has set a dangerous precedent that will not serve the interests of democracy in Pakistan.

Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi

The countries ruled by military junta are among the least developed and most heavily indebted nations across the world. It is unfortunate that in many countries, including Pakistan, the military establishment still imposes itself on civilian rule with its intermittent interventions. There have been rare instances when the judiciary has put on trial military officials who were responsible for such interventions that have nothing to do with their basic functions.

The Pakistani Supreme Court judges took a unanimous decision to the effect that Sharif was not eligible to be prime minister besides barring him from holding any public office for life after denying him a fair trial that fulfills all legal procedures. If there had been any such a trial, he would have been given the right to defend himself. On the other hand, the entire exercise seemed to be designed to deny him justice.

The integrity of the team, carefully formed by the Court to investigate the leak case, was also doubtful. One of its members is close to Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party leader Imran Khan, the archrival of Sharif. Khan lodged the case against Sharif after he failed defeat him in the election. More than one member of the team was chosen by military intelligence and, hence, the outcome was almost predictable. It was also evident from the difficulties faced by the lawyers of Sharif.

The guilt of Sharif was not because of the Panama Papers leak. It was also not because of corruption. Instead, his apparent “fault” was that he wanted politics to be handled only by politicians and wanted the military to concern itself with its own responsibilities. His initiative to find a political solution to the long-standing issues with India and Afghanistan angered the military establishment as it felt that it had a role to play in such decisions.

At the same time, the military found that it was no longer appropriate for it to involve itself in a political intervention in the country. In the past, the military did not hesitate to ratify all the coups that overthrew elected governments, the latest of which was that of Pervez Musharraf that toppled the government of Sharif in 1999.

However, the judiciary has a long history of alliance with the military and this time it took charge of the mission of isolating the elected prime minister through a trial that lacked many legal requirements and procedures. In this way, the Supreme Court has set a dangerous precedent that will not serve the interests of democracy in Pakistan.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette.

Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at [email protected] or via Twitter @DrAliAlghamdi.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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