Yet again in its history, Pakistan is witnessing an era of multitudinous political statements, innumerable accusations and a conspiracy theory galore. Yet again in the country, a sitting Prime Minister is being asked to resign on account of alleged corruption. As the political environment remains action-packed, the ordinary people of Pakistan experience a feeling of déjà vu.

It all started with the emergence of the findings of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) formed by the Supreme Court of Pakistan to probe the offshore assets of and money-laundering allegations against the ruling family. The JIT report said that the Sharif family submitted selective documents, which were severely lacking in substance and added that the Prime Minister “…is in possession of assets beyond known sources of income”. The panel also disclosed that the Prime Minister was the chairman of a board in an offshore company, called FZE Capital UAE, but he concealed the fact while making declarations before the concerned authorities – be it filings before tax authorities or the Election Commission of Pakistan. As the Supreme Court sets forth to examine whether the Prime Minister can be disqualified on the basis of the JIT report or not, many legal experts believe that it would not be easy for the Prime Minister to escape disqualification under Article 62(1)(f) of the Constitution – which states that in order to be elected to the Parliament, a person should be, “sagacious, righteous, non-profligate, honest and ameen, there being no declaration to the contrary by a court of law”. Whether or not this will be the case really depends on the interpretation of the JIT report by the honourable Supreme Court of Pakistan. However, it can be said without any doubt that the JIT report has surely set a precedent in the country and has all the contours to become a major episode in the history of Pakistan.

Pakistan has traditionally had two strong political parties – Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) and the Nawaz Sharif-led Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). The Zardari-led PPP has already shrunk its political space from a federal to a provincial level and has become more or less confined to the province of Sindh. It is believed that due to its policies, the widespread speculation of corruption against its prominent leaders and a lack of charismatic new leadership, the party will remain relegated to the Sindh province and will not be able to form a federal government anytime in the near future. In this scenario, the only seasoned party left behind is, in fact, the ruling PML-N. However, with the latest JIT report and the issues it has created for the ruling party, it is plausible that the PML-N would not remain too strong as well. Whether it remains in power for now or not, it is generally understood that the party would not be able to make as astounding a comeback as it did in the previous polls.

Though it is quite evident that the JIT has been able to point out quite a number of issues with the money trail of the Prime Minister and his family, a question that arises is whether all other politicians of the country are spotless and squeaky clean? If this is not the case, then why is Nawaz Sharif facing this destiny alone? The Panama papers case is not the only international scandal that has named Pakistani politicians, as the country has found “luck” many a time on this front. Then why Nawaz Sharif alone?

Does the emergence of the JIT report mean that the country is seeing the dawn of a new era of accountability? Does it mean that all hitherto seasoned politicians of Pakistan – who have remained in power and have had allegations of corruption against them – should expect to be probed in similar fashion? Or does it mean that Pakistan is yet again all set to witness allegations of foul play by the ruling politicians against the country’s establishment?

As two-thirds of the JIT is composed of armed forces’ officials, the path indeed is very narrow to tread. The current situation is so sensitive and sentiments run so high that any trivial event can lead to a full-fledged clash of institutions – if not from the armed forces’ side, from the PML-N for sure. Then again, the part that foreign policy issues play in the entire scenario should not be ignored as well. It is a known fact that the intelligence agencies of many countries have been accused of stoking trouble in Balochistan on account of their opposition to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Thus, any information received from outside of Pakistan should be taken with a pinch of salt. Political volatility is sure to have spill-over effects and with foreign investment focused majorly on CPEC currently, Pakistan cannot afford any sort of disruption in the project.

Whether the JIT report can dislodge the strong foothold of the ruling party or not, it is a reality that the report has already diminished the prospects of PML-N’s return in 2018 polls. The upcoming election is sure to result in a hung parliament – with no political party having a decisive edge over the other. The JIT report might just be a beginning of this end.

The writer is an Adviser on Political and Economic Affairs in a diplomatic mission in Islamabad.

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