Does Panama Case Set A Dangerous Precedent?
28th July, 2018 might be remembered as a turning point in the history of Pakistan. When the rule of law prevailed and when the verdict of Supreme Court satisfied the zeitgeist i.e. disqualification of Prime Minister. The spectre of Panama Case got the best of what can easily be termed as Pakistan’s most popular political party with a stronghold in Punjab and a sweeping majority in Parliament. In an unprecedented episode of proceedings, the tables started to turn against the incumbent premier after a joint investigation team (JIT) presented its report with surprising honesty and probity. Matters were quite clear but, inebriated with power and misguided by advisors PM Nawaz blatantly refused to resign (which would have been a logically and politically correct move), and rather confronted. The result was unexpected for all of us. Accompanied with chants of Go Nawaz Go, the media persons, some of them quite gleefully, announced the verdict that all 5 judges had called for disqualification of PM Nawaz on the basis that he hid his salary which he took from a company called FZE.
From here follows a mixed panoply of feelings portrayed by different national and international media houses. From a judicial coup to a dangerous precedent, this verdict has been subject to many interpretations. Most of the articles pointed towards the dilemma that our country has been facing since its inception: the smooth transition of any democratically elected government. Some raised concerns about the fraught relationship of the army and civilian government. Others were warning about the potential risks our economy would be exposed to and nearly all of them termed it as a dangerous precedent. But why?
The topic in question constitutes two facets: civilian-army bonds and threats to Pakistan’s economy. We are all familiar with the civilian-army relationship. It has been going like this since the country’s inception and there is nothing new to it. Now let’s turn our attention to the economy. Yes, dwindling exports and shrinking reserves are dangerous and deserve more attention when it comes to the performance of our economy. The stock market did plunge from the heights of 53,000 points to 44,000 points because of the political fog accumulating as a result of the uncertainty of the Panama case verdict. But as things became clear, the market witnessed a bullish closing on the day the final verdict was announced. News showed brokers/people holding pieces of confectionery in hands in cheerful ambience at Pakistan Stock Exchange. What else defines the market sentiment? In the coming weeks we will see it going up towards recovery. Also, as this is the election year we will see infrastructure spending from the government’s side (contrary to what others believe). Moreover, all the above-mentioned factors will not change overnight, regardless of whether Nawaz stays or not. So, there is no imminent threat to the economy other than what was already present.
To the question of whether this is a dangerous precedent or not, let’s turn our attention towards the fact that this disqualification was a result of the Panama Papers that were leaked worldwide engulfing many famous politicians and office-holders exposing their acts of financial swindling and forging documents during past years. It was not a case where someone from the Opposition stood up and whimsically alleged the Prime Minister of various acts of corruption. The verdict was based on cold, hard facts. Everything was proved, through a proper investigation report. The defending party was given full chance to bring forward evidence supporting their argument. So much so that the very delay in the proceedings and judgment was beginning to stir feelings of disappointment and confusion among the masses.
How can then we define this dangerous precedent? Can we attribute a country’s economy to an individual? Is exposing corruption a dilemma? The same international/national media would have been criticizing our judiciary’s independence and the prevalence of rule of law in our country. Now we have done the unimaginable, the unthinkable. Do we need to embroil ourselves in an unwanted debate? That the basis of the verdict i.e. hiding of the salary – could have been better, I agree. But we cannot say, by any means possible that this was unfair or that it has set a dangerous precedent. If, in posterity, any allegations are raised against any Prime Minister or office-bearer, common sense, logic and optimism must be our guide and should make it clear that transparency and just procedure will follow and that the verdict will not be adulterated by any manipulation whatsoever. The same international media that is questioning the judgment here would certainly support impeachment against Donald Trump too. Free elections are indeed a part of democracy, but so is rule of law.
If this is a dangerous precedent then what do you call letting a corrupt official resume office and continue robbing the country? Dangerous? Indeed!
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