The political tension in the country has constantly been escalating since the PTI announced its ‘decisive’ Islamabad March last month. Certainly, the high political stakes involved in the Panamagate have already given rise to a full-fledged confrontation between the two major political parties- the PML-N and PTI. Therefore, in the face of apparent PTI-PML-N standoff on Panamagate issue, it was being widely speculated that the so-called Third Force would actively intervene to end evolving political chaos in the country. However, somehow assuming the role of a referee, the Supreme Court of Pakistan sagaciously and daringly intervened to resolve the Panama conundrum at the eleventh hour. Asking the government and opposition political parties to submit their TOR’s by Thursday, a five-member bench of Supreme Court has decided to form an independent inquiry commission to probe Panamagate.

Welcoming the apex court’s decision, PTI has changed its planned protest march in Islamabad to a ‘thanksgiving’ rally. Some months ago, PTI and other political parties filed different petitions in Supreme Court under Article 184(3) of the Constitution, requesting the apex court to take cognizance of the allegations leveled by the Panama Papers against PM Nawaz Sharif and his family members regarding owning some offshore accounts and assets. But the Registrar of the Supreme Court instantly returned these ‘frivolous’ petitions. However, when an appeal against Registrar’s order was filed by PTI’s lawyers later, the CJP decided to admit these petitions for regular hearing.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan has been empowered under Article 184(3) of the Constitution primarily to effectively safeguard the fundamental rights of the citizens in the country. However, there has been a tendency of stretching the jurisdiction of the apex court under this constitutional clause to the extent of taking cognisance of diverse legal and constitutional matters on the basis of wider interpretation of the fundamental rights. This judicial practice was also criticised by various quarters on different grounds. Therefore, the apex court has been quite reluctant to excessively exercise its jurisdiction under Article 184(3) of the Constitution for the last couple of years. It has also visibly distanced itself from the So-called Iftikhar Chaudhry Doctrine.

Certainly, SC’s recent decision regarding the Panamagate has shown that the apex court is not absolutely unresponsive to the public demand and sentiments. The SC has decided to take up Panamagate case to pacify the ongoing political turmoil in country. Obviously extra-ordinary circumstances warrant extra-ordinary actions. The apex court has hinted at adequately empowering the proposed Panama inquiry commission. It also looks determined to expeditiously conclude the Panamagate case. This is not the first time the apex court has chosen to form an inquiry commission to probe a particular legal question. In 2012, the apex court concluded a similar case by deciding to form an independent inquiry commission to probe Memogate scandal in Pakistan.

It was being hopes that the Panama-leaks issue in Pakistan would amicably be resolved as PM Nawaz Sharif announced the formation of high powered judicial to probe the allegations leveled against him and his family members as soon as this scandal first surfaced in April this year. However, the federal government referred this matter to the apex court after unilaterally framing the TOR’s for the proposed inquiry commission without consulting the opposition parties. The apex court also instantly rejected these TOR’s providing some guidelines for the same. Later, the government announced the formation of 12-member Parliamentary Committee to frame ‘consensus’ TOR’s for the intended judicial inquiry commission. Regrettably, owing to inflexible attitude exhibited by both the ruling and opposition political parties, this Parliamentary Committee could not frame these TOR’s. In fact, the PML-N government is primarily responsible for the failure of this committee as it tried its best to complicate and confuse this issue by extending the scope of proposed inquiry by requiring the inquiring commission to probe against all Pakistanis named in the Panama Papers.

As matter of fact, it is the primary responsibility of various investigative and accountability agencies in Pakistan to thoroughly probe the Panamagate. Therefore, they should have proactively taken up this case. But we know there is no agency in Pakistan which is independent and efficient enough to effectively probe allegations against the chief executive of the country. Now the apex court has undesirably intervened only to save the country plunging into a political chaos. Now the federal government must mobilize all the investigative and regulatory agencies to probe allegations against all Pakistanis named in the Panama Papers. In this respect, a joint interrogation team in line with India’s multi-agency group (MAG) is advisable. Now the ‘protagonists of change’ in the country should also raise their voices to initiate an independent inquiry against these persons too.

As the PML-N government has also welcomed the Apex Court’s initiatives to conclusively determine Panama-leaks question, therefore there is no apparent hurdle in the way of early conclusion of this case. Now both sides should pledge to respect the court’s decision in this case. It is also incumbent upon the federal government to extend full cooperation to the proposed inquiry commission to effectively probe this case as it necessarily involves the foreign jurisdiction and alleged off-shore accounts.

PTI Chairman IK should be a bit careful about the choice of his phraseology. In fact, the phrase ‘Islamabad lockdown’ instantly landed PTI in the severe trouble even before the November 2. Primarily quoting IK’s words regarding the seizure of the capital city, the federal government took a number a ‘preventive measures’ to foil PTI’s intended plan to paralyse Islamabad. Obviously if ‘one million’ people assemble in a city like Islamabad, there will be a lockdown-like situation. During 2014 Islamabad sit in, the Kaptaan also extensively used similar phrases, for which he had later to face the music.

PTI should now focus on the upcoming 2018 General Elections. It should also endeavour to rectify the electoral maladies in the country to ensure free and fair polls in future. PTI leaders must realise that they can defeat the political status quo only through the ballot. Therefore, in order to achieve its political objectives in next general elections, the PTI will have to considerably improve its political muscle. It certainly needs to reorganise and reinforce the party’s structure at the grass-roots level. It has also to focus on the rural areas where it still has no strong presence. It should also immediately hold long-due intra-party elections.

Undoubtedly, the apex court has been proactively playing its institutional resolve to ensure political stability in the country for the last few years. It has already successfully put an end to numerous controversies generated in the country following the 2013 General Elections by efficiently probing the rigging allegations through a judicial inquiry commission. Now it has sincerely taken up the Panamagate case. Surely, at this stage, the apex court’s positive intervention will go a long way in promoting the culture of accountability and strengthening the fragile democratic institutions in the country.