PTI Chairman Imran Khan was openly ridiculed by various politicians, media persons and analysts for instantly changing his November 2 Islamabad March to a ‘thanksgiving’ rally after abandoning his earlier plan to lockdown Islamabad. They readily termed Kaptaan’s act a complete U-turn. Ridiculously, these people were earlier severely criticizing PTI’s intended plan of ‘Islamabad lockdown’. Logically, they should appreciate PTI’s latest political move. Therefore, technically, it was not IK but these people who really made a U-turn. As PTI strategically achieved its primary objective even a day ahead of its scheduled march, therefore there was no need of further protest. Unlike the 126-day long ‘Azadi Test’, this time the Kaptaan played a T20 match whereby he easily achieved his political objectives.

Though the PML-N government has yet not made a complete U-turn on Panama Leaks probe issue, it has constantly been dillydallying over this issue ever since PM Nawaz Sharif offered himself for accountability in a televised speech in April this year. First, it tried its best to prolong and complicate this issue through the 12-memebr Parliamentary Committee which was assigned to frame consensus TOR’s for the proposed inquiry commission. Now, despite making a pledge to extend full support to the apex court in Panamagate case, the members of ruling political party are deliberately trying to undermine court’s daring initiative directly or indirectly. They are trying to prolong this case by employing typical delaying tactics and raising objections on flimsy legal grounds. An extensive ‘paid’ media campaign was also launched to prejudice this case by influencing the public opinion. Therefore, it is very like that the ruling political party would intensify its current maneuvering against this case both inside and outside the court in the next few days.

Special Assistant to Prime Minister Barrister Zafarullah Khan has formally challenged the maintainability of the Panamgate case in the apex court by maintaining that the court should not hear this case as the proposed legislation for the Panama probe commission is currently pending in the parliament. Similarly, Hanif Abbasi, an MNA of PML-N has also recently moved the Supreme Court seeking the disqualification of PTI Chairman and General Secretary primarily upon the charges of false declaration of assets and non-disclosure of off-shore companies. He has also requested the court to fix his petition with the Panamagate case.

Apparently, both constitutional petitions are only aimed at delaying the Panamagate proceedings in the apex court. In fact, presently the said legislation is just in the middle of nowhere as the ruling and opposition parliamentary parties have utterly failed to minimize their differences over it despite the lapse of six months. Similarly, if the PML-N government is seriously desirous of getting the allegations against PTI Chairman and General Secretary probed then it should have mobilized its various investigative agencies for this purpose instead of asking the apex court to look into this case.

No sooner did the 5-member bench of Supreme Court of Pakistan formally decide to take up Panamagate case, there so-called forces of status quo in the country instantly moved in to rescue the beleaguered leader of the troubled ruling party. They readily started scandalizing this case. Ironically, these political and non-political elements are just exhibiting the typical more-pious-than-the-pope behaviour as the government has apparently welcomed the Panamagate proceedings. PPP, the major opposition party in the parliament is also opposing these judicial proceedings by maintaining that the Panamagate should be probed in accordance with intended Parliamentary legislation, ignoring the fact that 12-member Parliamentary Committee has failed to evolve consensus regarding the TOR’s for the proposed inquiry commission so far.

Reportedly, Pakistan Bar Council (PBC), the premier regulatory body for the lawyers in the country, is now all set to obstruct the Panamagate case in the apex court. It has hinted at challenging the Panamagate judicial proceedings during its recently-held meeting under the chair of Attorney General of Pakistan, who is also ex-officio chairman of PBC. Ironically, a few months ago, the Executive Committee of PBC also adopted a resolution asking the apex court to take suo motu notice of Panamagate scandal. Therefore, now the PBC is divided over this issue.

The AGP is the ex-officio chairman of the PBC. However, it is the elected Vice Chairman who represents the Council and really calls the shots. Sadly, since the current Vice Chairman Dr. Farogh Naseem is actively supporting the Panamagate judicial proceedings, therefore now certain endeavours are being made to replace him with another pro-government member in order to advance PML-N’s political agenda through this lawyers’ premier body. In this respect, besides challenging the apex court’s jurisdiction under Article 184(3) of Constitution to hear Panamagate case, this body would also use other typical pressure tactics to make the apex court abandon this case. The PBC is now scheduled to meet on November 26 to formally formulate its future strategy regarding the Panamagate case. Interestingly, this is the same date on which the current COAS is scheduled to retire. This fact simply reinforces the speculations that, due to some obvious reasons, the ruling political party would show its true colors as far as this case is concerned after the retirement of current COAS this month.

Under Legal Practitioners and Bar Councils Act, 1973, Bar Councils are supposed to regulate the conduct of lawyers after formulating and enforcing some professional and ethical standards for the lawyers in the country. However, these statutory bodies have utterly failed to perform their entrusted task. They have just become the ceremonial entities which have no role beyond doing politics on behalf of lawyers and issuing calls for strikes on petty issues. Since Bar Councils are by no means the representative bodies of lawyers like the Bar Associations, therefore they should actively strive to regulate the conduct of lawyers instead of the judges of the apex court.

The arguments currently advanced by various quarters, including the PBC members, that the apex court has no authority to frame TOR’s for the proposed Panamagate probe commission hardly hold water. In fact, the apex court is not going to frame TOR’s under Pakistan Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1956. It is the constitutional court and the ultimate judicial arbiter in the country which can exercise enormous powers for the ends of justice. It should also be kept in mind that the Civil Procedure Code in Pakistan essentially authorizes even an ordinary civil judge to frame TOR’s and constitute a commission to inquire a particular legal fact. The apex court has already constituted various inquiry commissions after taking up a number of similar cases involving a question of pubic importance. The Memogate case is the glaring example.

The circumstances in which the apex court reluctantly but positively decided to play its institutional role must also not be forgotten. A number of investigative and accountability agencies were failed to perform their primary duty of probing the Panamagate scandal in Pakistan. Similarly, both the Executive and the Parliament were also failed to resolve this crisis by constituting an inquiry commission to the satisfaction of opposition political parties. There was a political chaos in the country in the face of recent PTI-PML-N standoff on this issue. One of the federating unit was at loggerheads with the federation. The political turmoil in the country was also likely to reach the threshold where the so-called Third Force generally considers itself justified to overthrow the democratic institutions in the country. Therefore, the apex court wisely pre-empt the greater political chaos by instantly intervene to pacify the protesting political parties.

Now instead of criticizing the Panamagate judicial proceedings and debating the jurisdiction of the apex court, the legal fraternity and all political parties should appreciate apex court’s initiative to finally resolve Panamagate controversies in Pakistan. They should stand by the apex court to promote the rule of law and a culture of accountability in the country. The honourable judges of the apex court shouldn’t yield to any sort of pressure from any quarter. They should do justice though the heavens may fall.

Unlike the 126-day long ‘Azadi Test’, this time the Kaptaan played a T20 match whereby he easily achieved his political objectives.