The political deadlock between the ruling and the opposition political parties over the issue of Panama-leaks probe is now observably heading towards a sort of political confrontation in the country. Having exhausted the ‘legal and pacific’ means to get the Panama Papers revelations probed, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has hinted at mobilising party’s street power soon after the Eid to coerce the government into resolving this issue in accordance with PTI’s demand. Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) chairman Allama Tahir-ul-Qadri has already arrived in Pakistan to aggressively launch an anti-government movement afresh. Similarly, Pakistan People Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has also started talking about giving anther push to the crumbling rule of ‘Modi’s friend’ in the country. On the other hand, the senior PML-N leaders look quite hesitant to make any substantial decision on this issue in the absence of their party leader in Pakistan.

Comprising legislators from both the treasury and the opposition benches, a 12-member parliamentary committee was formed to finalise the ToRs for the intended Panama probe commission after the Chief Justice of Pakistan formally refused to set up a judicial inquiry commission in accordance with the ToRs prepared by the government. However, so far, the parliamentary committee has utterly failed to accomplish its entrusted task on account of inflexible attitude exhibited by its members while finalising the nitty-gritty of the proposed commission. Last month, the PTI and PAT also approached the Election Commission of Pakistan by filing two separate references, seeking PM Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification from the National Assembly for allegedly concealing his assets.

The references filed by the PTI and PAT in the ECP are very unlikely to help dilute the current panama-leaks controversy in the country. Firstly, the ECP is legally handicapped to consider and decide these references since the ECP presently stands incomplete owing to the recent retirement of its four members. Besides this, the very fact whether PM Nawaz Sharif or his ‘dependents’ own any offshore company or assets has yet not been legally established. So far, no formal and competent legal forum in the country has conclusively determine and decide this question. Obviously the ECP would not disqualify the PM on the sole basis of Panama Papers revelations.

Apparently, now the last legal recourse left for the PTI is to seek the formal judicial determination of the Panama Papers allegations. For this very purpose, PTI chairman has also hinted at approaching the apex court soon. Beside the political parties, presently the premier lawyers’ bodies like Pakistan Bar Council and Supreme Court Bar Association are also quite inclined to invoke the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Pakistan under Article 184(3) of the Constitution to get Panama-leaks question conclusively determined by the apex court. The said constitutional provision empowers the apex court to adjudicate on a question of public importance relating to the enforcement of fundamental rights enshrine in the Constitution of Pakistan.

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 practice was best observed during the chief justiceship of Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry when the apex court took some 86 suo moto actions in five years. Now, for some years, observably the apex court has somehow been abstaining from excessively exercising this constitutional jurisdiction by gradually distancing it from the so-called Iftikhar Chaudhry doctrine. Therefore, this time the apex court may also decline to entertain a complex political-cum-legal case relating to the Panama Papers revelations as the CJP has already issued the directions to the governments regarding the formation of proposed judicial inquiry commission.

In fact, the political dimension of this issue is very crucial since it essentially involves the political future of the leader of largest political party in the country. Therefore, the apex court should not unnecessarily be exposed to uncalled for controversies in the presence of viable alternative legal remedies. In addition to the formation a judicial Inquiry commission for Panama probe, the Representation of People Act, 1976 also provides a legal remedy in case of misstatement or mis-declaration of assets made by any parliamentarian. In my opinion, it would be even far better for the apex court to probe the Panama Papers allegations against the PM and his family members, as earlier referred to it by the government, under Pakistan Commission of Inquiry Act, 1956 instated of taking up this matter under Article 184(3) of the Constitution of Pakistan.

The government can primarily be blamed for the failure of the parliamentary committee to frame the ‘consensus ToR’s’ for the intended Panama probe commission. Due to obvious reasons, it is trying to confuse and complicate this matter. In a televised address to the nation, PM Nawaz Sharif readily announced the formation of a high-powered ‘Judicial commission’, voluntarily offering him and his family members for judicial scrutiny as soon as the Panama Papers controversy first surfaced three months ago. Later, for this purpose, the government also seriously tried to form an inquiry commission headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. But strangely, the government just moved the goal post when it formally requested the CJP for the formation of a judicial inquiry commission over this issue. It deliberately extended the scope of the proposed inquiry by requiring the inquiry commission to probe against all Pakistanis named in the Panama Papers.

It should never be forgotten that we are demanding the formation of a high-powered judicial commission under the supervision of the CJP only because there is no investigative agency in Pakistan which is competent and independent enough to efficiently probe into allegations against the chief executive of the country and his family members. Therefore, if the government is desirous of resolving the current Panama-leaks issue promptly and peacefully, then the scope of the proposed Judicial inquiry should necessarily be confined to the alleged off-shore assets and companies owned by Prime Minister and his family members.

The government can scrutinize the offshore companies allegedly owned by other Pakistanis named in the Panama Papers, and even the loan defaulters, through a number of investigative and regulatory bodies in the country like NAB, FIA, FBR, SBP, SECP etc. it is very pertinent here to mention that India instantly constituted a multi-agency group (MAG), comprising officials from relevant investigative, tax and finical departments, to investigate around 500 Indians named in the Panama papers as soon as Panama-leaks controversy surfaced in April this year. This Indian agency has submitted a number of preliminary reports after actively probing various Panama-leaks allegations.

In order to end the current political impasse on the Panama-leaks probe issue, both the ruling and the opposition political parties have to exhibit a reasonable and pragmatic attitude towards this contentious matter. Without any further delay, they should actively frame reasonable ToRs for the proposed inquiry commission before referring this matter to the CJP. At this stage, it is expedient and quite advisable to restrict the scope of proposed inquiry to the alleged offshore companies and assets owned by Prime Minister’s family members. At the same time, a joint interrogation body, comprising officials from the relevant investigative and financial agencies in the country, should also be formed to thoroughly probe all other Pakistanis named in the Panama Papers, in line with India’s recently-constituted MAG. Both inquiry proceedings can conveniently be initiated and continued simultaneously and independently. This legal approach would not only help early resolve this issue but also be acceptable to Supreme Court of Pakistan.

The primary responsibility of resolving the current political deadlock over the panama-leaks issue lies with the government since the controversy necessarily involves the PM and his close family members. Therefore, the government is supposed to promptly act to get the Panama Papers allegations probed to the satisfaction of the protesting political parties as early as possible. This sort of positive gesture exhibited by the government will certainly strengthen the democratic institutions by giving rise to a healthy political culture in the country. It’s high time the politicians must prove that they are fully capable to settle their mutual political differences even without the intervention of so-called Third Umpire.