The respondents in Panama case have formally challenged the final report of Joint Investigation Team (JIT) in the apex court by maintaining that this report is incomplete and full of discrepancies. On Monday, the legal team of the Sharif family raised a number of objections over the JIT report by filing an objection petition before the 3-member SC bench. However, instead of focusing on findings of the JIT report, these objections are primarily revolving around the legal technicalities and procedural irregularities allegedly committed by the JIT members while preparing this report and collecting evidence against the Sharif family. Apparently, this legal team is trying to dispute the JIT report to get some legal concessions for their clients.

The two dissenting judges in the original 5-member SC bench in Panama case have disqualified PM Nawaz Sharif under Article 62 and 63 of the Constitution after declaring NS to be not a Sadiq and Ameen on the basis of false and contradictory statements made by him. So following suit, the 3-member SC bench can also disqualify NS by relying on the same constitutional provisions. Indeed, after the submission of the JIT report, there is now additional material before this bench to decide the case accordingly. However, to ensure a fair trial and due process to the respondents, this bench may also refer this case to a criminal trial court, preferably a NAB court, after issuing directions to speedily conclude this case. Nevertheless, PM Nawaz Sharif is unlikely to survive the Panamagate scandal. The Panama case, along with the JIT report, has opened a Pandora’s Box of allegations of corruption, misappropriation and financial malpractices against the ruling Sharif family. Now the legal team of the family can only delay the disqualification of PM Nawaz Sharif by tactically prolonging this case. But it can by no means make NS escape punishment in this scandal.

Following the submission of the final report by the JIT to the SC bench last week, opposition parties have intensified their ‘campaign’ to make PM Nawaz Sharif step down. On the other hand, NS has rejected the opposition’s demand altogether after making it clear that he wouldn’t resign under any circumstance. In fact, at this stage, his resignation would hardly help him set things right. Indeed, much water has flowed under the bridge. Had he voluntarily stepped down at the time when SC formally took up the Panama case in November last year, he would have escaped the ongoing judicial scrutiny that has badly exposed a number of shady financial aspects of Sharif family. In the Panamagate verdict, an honourable judge of the SC bench readily compared NS with a ‘godfather’. Similarly, the Panama JIT has also collected a lot of material evidence against the Sharif family which would land it in severe trouble.

Like most political parties in the country, the PML-N too has no identity or existence independent of its head, NS. Therefore, PML-N can’t survive or sustain without ‘N’. Maryam Nawaz , the political ‘heir apparent’, is also facing corruption charges in the case. Now PTI has also started manoeuvring against CM Punjab Shehbaz Sharif , ‘godfather 2’, to further marginalise PML-N. In this respect, PTI has recently filed a reference against him in the Lahore High Court. Therefore, NS has no political choice to nominate any active member of the Sharif family as his ‘successor’. In the absence of any viable political alternative, PM Nawaz Sharif would naturally choose to stay in power. So he has readily switched to a confrontational mode to test his opponents’ nerves.

This is the first time that the apex court has taken up such a complex case while exercising its jurisdiction under Article 184(3) of the Constitution. There has been a perception that the apex court has compromised the constitutional provisions regarding fair trial and due process. However, no one other than PM Nawaz Sharif offered himself for accountability before the apex court by allowing it to hear the Panama case.

Instead of giving a plausible explanation for their offshore accounts and assets, NS’ legal team resorted to produce a laughable piece of evidence, the ‘Qatari letter’, before the court. On the other hand, another pro-active team of PML- N’s spokespersons readily chose to defend their leader NS in the media and TV talk shows only. Had the PML-N focused on the legal aspects and implications of the Panama case inside the apex court with similar wisdom, energy and enthusiasm, both the party and its leader NS would have managed to mitigate the criticism and humiliation they are now facing on the Panamagate scandal. Now Sharif family’s legal team is raising flimsy objections over the JIT report, the conduct and partiality of the JIT members. In fact, it is now useless for PML-N to cry over spilt milk. Observably, things have rapidly gone beyond the control and capacity of the incumbent PML-N government.

A number of PML-N leaders are pointing their fingers at the military establishment, in addition to ‘foreign players’, for dislodging their government under the guise of the ‘Panama drama’. On the other hand, just a few days ago, DG ISPR has strongly rejected these conspiracy theories. Probably against the backdrop of troubled civ-mil relations, PML-N leaders are blaming the establishment for hatching a conspiracy against their elected government. One can hardly say anything about it with precision. However, in this troubled situation, the military establishment is very unlikely to come forward to rescue NS and its crumbling rule in the country.

The nature and magnitude of the political crisis currently faced by NS is entirely different from previous crises experienced by him. In the past, he was only deposed by a military dictator. However, NS was never seriously tried in any court of law for alleged misconduct or malpractice. Nor was he ever disqualified by a court of law. General Pervez Musharraf let him leave Pakistan after making a compromise with him. So he and his political party again managed to come into power after a short pause. There has been a friendly opposition party, the PPP, which due to some reasons known to everyone, never seriously tried to probe corruption allegations against the Sharif family.

Unlike the past, the highest judicial forum in the country is thoroughly looking into the allegations of corruption against the NS. A lot of incriminating material has also been ‘discovered’ by the Panama JIT. Similarly, unlike the past, there is a political party like PTI, which is by no means friendly towards the PML-N. It has given a hard time to the incumbent government. Now there is also a vigilant, or rather hostile, media which has proactively been criticising and exposing the dark aspects of PML-N government. Besides this, the independent judiciary has also started asserting itself. As usual, the military establishment has also chosen not to support the NS. And above all, the Panamagate scandal has damaged the political goodwill of NS and PML-N beyond redemption. Therefore, carefully analysing the legal aspects of Panama case as well as the current political perspective in the country, the troubled PML-N and its beleaguered leader NS are most likely to meet their Waterloo soon.